Directed by Theo Anthony
Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make 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".
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★★★½ review by Lawrence Garcia on Letterboxd
MUBI interview with the director, Theo Anthony. (Introduction excerpted below. Apologies for the copious parentheticals—really need to tone that down.) It's possible that I'm overselling this slightly, especially since part of my excitement has to do with how closely my views on documentary filmmaking align with Anthony's, which comes through in the film, and is confirmed in the interview. But it's just such a pleasure to be consistently surprised by such an inventive and playful vision (nicely illustrated by the diverse range of images in that above-linked piece), particularly one that I had close to zero expectations for. (It premiered at Locarno, a festival whose sensibility, viz. 88:88, I don't usually align with.) It's an excellent debut; seek it out if/when you can.
"Since its premiere at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, Theo Anthony's Rat Film (not to be confused with Morgan Spurlock’s Rats)—ostensibly a documentary on Baltimore’s rat problem—seems to have burrowed under the radar, not surfacing till its recent showing at the 35th Vancouver International Film Festival. Though its subject may seem like strange material for an excellent documentary, let alone a striking debut, the film shatters those expectations within seconds of its opening—voiceover about the origins of the universe (“Before the world became the world, it was an egg…”) accompanied by shots of a racetrack; a (common) Norway rat trying to jump out of a trash can, then a smash cut to the title—and over the course of its 82 minutes, Rat Film becomes one of the most inventive and consistently surprising features of the year."
(Also addressed the film in a larger VIFF dispatch for In Review Online.)
★★★★½ review by Jacob Knight on Letterboxd
Vermin as a jumping off point for a historical examination of the social strife that's plagued Baltimore, MD throughout its history. Evokes Adam Curtis through its tangential exploration of power structures while the subjects (which include both a modern exterminator and a trainer for forensic crime scene analysts) are given Herzogian questions like "do the rats go to heaven?" A work of avant garde genius, complete with a Dan Deacon score.
★★★½ review by Mike Ward on Letterboxd
This film so effectively uses rats and human's hatred of them to illustrate how our mentality/views regarding them is not that different from our mentality/views on other social issues poverty & racism. The analogy of people living in inner cities and rats in a maze is not new at all but this film makes it feel so fresh and hits hard.
Also can I just say the interviewees in this film are not only informative but probably the greatest set of personalities I've seen in documentaries in a long time. You enjoyed every second every moment you're with them.
★★★★ review by Jaime Grijalba on Letterboxd
Rat Film (2016)
Apparently I can't review this film? But I can blurb it.
I had this in my mind during the entire length of the film because I'm stupid and my brain is weird.
So, this is what actually coherent and precise political filmmaking from the US looks like, this is what it feels to watch a film that was made "from the other side" that it actually connects with the actual issues of segregation and poverty.
Rats are obviously an excuse, as are video games, we are left in a digital world as the only possibility to escape the crime-ridden streets that ended up like that because of the racist and classicists that took care of the business of loans in Baltimore.
I'm rambling, sorry.
★★★★★ review by Matt_Williamson on Letterboxd
A visionary philosophical documentary in the tradition of Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and Laurie Anderson, and of ethicists like Peter Singer. Theo Anthony makes unexpected but convincing connections, is scientifically and historically literate and inquisitive but also compassionate, and fearlessly asks the biggest questions.
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