The latest filmmaker to bring rats to the big screen is director Theo Anthony, whose RAT FILM had its theatrical release on Sept. 15.
RAT FILM tells the story of Baltimore’s rodent crisis from a historical, scientific and cultural perspective.
According to a press release from Cinema Guild, the distributor behind RAT FILM, the documentary “not only exposes our boundaries of separation but makes homes in them. RAT FILM is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat — as well as the humans that love them, live with them and kill them — to explore the history of Baltimore. There’s never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it’s always been a people problem.”
PCT interviewed Anthony for the following Q&A, which provides a behind-the-scenes look at the film.
BRAD HARBISON:Why did you decide to use the emergence of rats in Baltimore as the vehicle to tell the story?
THEO ANTHONY: In the rat I found an incredible vessel to explore a vast and really strange network of ideas. In many ways, the film isn’t so much about the rat but the people, places, and histories that the rat brings together. And in this, the rat is a unique vector because it not only transgresses human boundaries, whether it’s a street, alleyway, or wall, but they actually make homes in them. You can tell a lot about humans by the way they treat rats.
BH: Why did it work?
TA: It worked for me because the film really started out as an earnest attempt to learn about my hometown of Baltimore, to try to understand what historical factors led it to look the way that it does. It’s the birthplace of modern rat poison, it had one of the first government sanctioned pest control programs in the nation, Johns Hopkins right down the street has come across some of the defining medical breakthroughs of the modern world in large part to their experimentation on rats. It’s also where the nation’s first residential segregation laws were introduced. And of course, Baltimore is notorious for its rat infestations. When you start to dig into all of these things you start to find really unexpected connections. I wouldn’t say it works for everyone though.
BH: In your research for the film, what did you learn about rats that surprised you?
TA: I think that I was consistently surprised by their intelligence, resilience and flexibility. It’s amazing how much you can learn about human environments by studying how rats have adapted to it. I’ve heard a lot of people describe them as our ‘shadow species.’ I like that!
BH: What rat images from this film will stay with viewers once they leave the film?
TA: I don’t like to prescribe any takeaway from a film. I think I want people to start some place with whatever assumptions they have and to end somewhere different. Maybe that’s somewhere that’s more complicated and poetic and interconnected than they had ever thought, but the main thing is that a film has this incredible power to transform our assumptions, even if it’s only for the 90-minute duration. I think the more important question is, how can we take this transformative process and apply it to our lives after a film ends?
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.