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Director Theo Anthony on
Baltimore Documentary Rat Film

By Steve Erickson | Film & Video Magazine | September 14, 2017

Following Local Exterminators and Incorporating Imagery from Google Earth and Google Maps, the Filmmaker Sought to Illuminate Systemic Racism without Being Preachy

Theo Anthony's documentary Rat Film is an impressive and unique debut feature. It ties together an exploration of the world of rats with the history of segregation and institutional racism in his native Baltimore. It belongs to a very local tradition of filmmaking; Rat Film is as much a piece of Baltimore mythmaking as John Waters' films and David Simon's TV shows Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire. The film's structure recalls the wide range of interests shown in Errol Morris' Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, but without the montage that ties together Morris' film. Rat Film is just as carefully edited, but it deals with its subjects one by one. Anthony follows exterminators (all of whom happen to be African-American) around, while also using maps and images from Google Maps and Google Earth to delve into Baltimore's racist past. The film's progressive politics are evident, but they never become totally explicit, and Anthony is far more interested in calling out systemic racism than saying it's bad for individuals to become white nationalists and use the N word. As you can see from the following interview, Anthony is interested in speaking to both sides of the political spectrum.

StudioDaily: Your film is very critical of the history of racism in Baltimore, but it also seems very proud to be a product of Baltimore. Do you see this as a contradiction?

Theo Anthony: No, I think it's very important to understand the history of Baltimore, not all of which is positive. I also don't want to fetishize those negative things. We need to understand where we come from. The film is an expression of my love for Baltimore. I'm trying to sincerely and earnestly understand more about it. Those things can co-exist in a mutually beneficial way.

Was it ever difficult being your own D.P.?

It's how I'm used to working. I've always shot, directed and edited my own stuff. It's the only way I know how to work. I think that on the plus side, it allows me a great degree of mobility and independence from factors that typically weigh down a production. On the down side, it limits the scale of the production. It's good to have other voices in the filmmaking, I think. That's something I'm actively trying to do in my next projects: scale up the production size and also bring in other voices.

Were there times in the editing when you felt someone else's point of view would have been useful?

Constantly. It would have been important for me to wrestle with what I was up against. This is ultimately a very personal work, like all films are. I think it's important to get out there that this isn't an objective history of Baltimore, but my own path of learning and trying to come to terms with Baltimore. That has its own limitations and flaws. I do think there is a really fine balance between that personal wrestling with the creative angels and bringing other people in to see that you're not totally off-course.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot it?

Mostly a Canon 5D, but also a Sony a7S and also my iPhone. I try to be transparent about the stuff I use, but it could be shot on anything. I use whatever's easiest at the time. Cameras are kind of beside the point to a production...
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article provided by Film & Video Magazine

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