Last week, some people were pushing aside piles of dead cicadas to clear off their driveways. Others were stuffing fingers in their ears to drown out the endless chirping. Sam Orr, he was shooting.
The Indiana native was in Riverside filming footage for a documentary about periodical cicadas.
After the rain died down last Friday night, Orr started filming the nymphs, still in their protective shells, climbing out of little holes in the ground and up the nearest vertical surface to shed their crispy brown shells.
The close-up and time lapse cicada footage is for a high-definition version of a movie he filmed three years ago of the emergence of cicada Brood X in southern Indiana. The original version was smaller scale, for local stations and organizations, but Orr said he hopes the remake will reach audiences at a national level.
Both documentaries have the same name: “Return of the Cicadas.” A shortened, five-minute version of the movie is being shown at the Chicago Field Museum as part of its cicada exhibit.
Orr is still filming, but isn’t sure he’ll return to Riverside, because he needs to find somewhere in Northern Illinois that’s more quiet. There’s just too much noise from state highways, trains and planes and he can’t pick up the bugs’ mating calls for the film’s audio.
Most of the footage is being shot after dusk when the cicadas are at their liveliest.
He expects to finish shooting at the end of next week, have the movie together by the end of the summer and ready for public consumption by the beginning of 2008, in time for the emergence of other cicada broods on the east coast.
Orr said he chose Riverside because Forester Michael Collins contacted him and recommended the village for filming. So did a cicada expert from the University of Illinois-Chicago.
“Riverside is a very picturesque and beautiful suburb, so it’s a nice backdrop to shoot the cicadas in,” Orr said.
The 2004 film first came about when Orr was studying at Indiana University in Bloomington and contemplating getting a doctorate in ecology. Instead, Orr ended up working in a lab with a professor at Indiana who was an expert in cicadas. He eventually become a nature documentary filmmaker.
He had a long list of reasons why he became so fascinated with cicadas, like the 17 years they spend in their juvenile stage beneath the earth.
“You don’t see them, they just kind of bubble up out of the ground during the course of a few weeks or months once every 17 years, then they’re gone again,” he said. “It’s always kind of sad that their whole life is spent alone underground, and then they come out in this big, beating mess for a few weeks, very noticeable, very messy, and then they’re gone again.”
Despite having to witness the trials and tribulations periodical cicadas must encounter, it’s all worth it for Orr.
“Things eat them, they don’t form properly when they come out of their shells, they get stepped on by people, run over by cars, washed away by rain, and it’s kind of sad they waited 17 years for that,” Orr said. “But it makes it all the more interesting when you see the ones that do make it.”