Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Charm City Scurry: In Baltimore–poverty, inequality, rodents.

“Before the world became the world, it was an egg. Inside the egg was dark. The rat nibbled the egg and let the light in. And the world began.”

It’s a startling way to begin a documentary about rats, isn’t it? And yet, in Theo Anthony’s aptly named “Rat Film,” the introductory narration isn’t the only thing that’s startling. If you sit down to watch this documentary, expect to take in one of the strangest snapshots of a city to ever grace the silver screen. The film takes a closer look at the rat problem in Baltimore—but also so much more than the rat problem in Baltimore.

You will meet a bizarre assortment of people in this documentary, ranging from rat exterminators to rat hunters to people who keep rats as pets. Interspersed with these niche character sketches, Anthony gives us little history lessons. First we learn about the residential segregation ordinances—things like “redlining,” which served the purpose of keeping black residents from getting mortgages in nicer neighborhoods. And then, with those ordinances becoming illegal, we learn about pacts made within neighborhoods to prevent black residents from moving in.

Which doesn’t sound like a documentary about rats, and yet it never sways from its title topic because the history lessons don’t stop there.

We learn the history of rat extermination, with black neighborhoods that were used as test neighborhoods for rat poison treatments, and the reports that poisoning the rats is actually a futile, expensive effort.

“Ain’t never been a rat problem in Baltimore,” one of the film’s subjects muses. “It’s always been a people problem.”

And as the documentary unfolds, it wholeheartedly backs this statement up. The focus is environmental, systemic racism.

The rats don’t make distinctions about race or class. They take up residence where they are able, and that usually ends up being in vacant buildings, places with disrepair and easy passage—places that, as one rat exterminator notes, “The most uneducated people are. The ones who have the least resources. The people who have no dreams, no aspirations, just survival. That’s basically where you’re gonna find them.” And yet, the city focuses on rat extermination first.

“Rat Film” gives a fascinating, unique exploration of Baltimore. Check out the screening of this gem of a documentary on Sept. 29, paired with several storytellers from [Untitled] relating tales inspired by the film. There will also be a Q&A with Dan Deacon, who composed the score for the film. This is definitely a screening you will want to make it to.

“Rat Film” plays on Sept. 29 at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit


At Midtown Cinema

Down in Front! Presents
“Sorority House Massacre II”
Friday, Sept. 13, 9:30 p.m.

“Margaret Atwood: Live in Cinemas”
Sunday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.

3rd in the Burg $3 Movie
“Spirited Away”
Friday, Sept. 20, 9:30 p.m.

“Snoopy, Come Home”
Sunday, Sept. 29, 2 p.m.

Dan Deacon Q&A
Score composer for “Rat Film”
Sunday, Sept. 29, following screening

[Untitled] at the Cinema
“Rat Film”
Sunday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.

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