Press release from Discovery, Oct. 13, 2016:
Lurking in unseen corners and crevices all over the world, rats thrive as one of the most elusive creatures. Their existence flourishes around the globe – from the fractures in Manhattan’s sidewalks to the dark streets of Mumbai, these disease-carrying animals are near impossible to exterminate. Inspired by Robert Sullivan’s New York Times bestselling book Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants, Oscar(R) nominated director Morgan Spurlock unveils a new form of documentary horror storytelling, journeying around the world to bring viewers face to face with rats while delving into our complicated relationship with these creepy creatures. RATS, a horrormentary, premieres October 22 at 9PM on Discovery Channel and October 30 at 9PM on Animal Planet.
An official selection of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and a recent Broadcast Film Critics Award nominee, RATS takes audiences to places never before captured on film highlighting animal and human behavior demonstrating how real life is often scarier than fiction. From the deep and dark corners of New York City’s parks, subway tunnels, and sewers; to scientific labs of New Orleans, and onto the rice fields in Cambodia and restaurants of Vietnam, Spurlock takes viewers on a thrilling ride uncovering the various places rats call home. The film also ventures to streets in India paroled by the revered Night Rat Killers, the English countryside where packs of terriers kill rats daily, and uncovers a temple in India where these animals are worshipped.
RATS features interviews with scientists, city officials, and citizens who shed light on a species that many are horrified by, but in reality may not fear enough. Some think that rats and humans might not be that different. “I spent 48 years trying to exterminate them (rats.) You don’t know what you’re up against. They’re just too well organized and too damn smart, states Brooklyn based exterminator Ed Sheehan in the film. “I’m not a scientist, but if humans went extinct, the rats would take over.”
And what is scarier than the spreading of mass diseases? In a New Orleans, Louisiana lab, RATS exposes the all too real issue of diseases being spread by these creatures. The film highlights why it is important to identify what these rodents are potentially carrying in the hopes of eradicating diseases before they get out of control and it is too late. “It’s really important to know where rats are and the exposure risks that we’re facing,” explains Dr. Michael Blum, Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Among the places Spurlock visits are:
NEW YORK – When humans first set foot into New York City 250 years ago, rats did too. As the population and concrete jungle began to grow, the rat presence survived off increasing garbage and growing infrastructure. Fast forward to present day and rats are thriving more than ever before, living in sewers, subway tunnels, street corners and overlooked crevices. Spurlock visits with Dr. Robert Corrigan from NYC’s Rat Academy and Rick Simeone, Director of Pest Control Services for NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to hear how this major city has dealt with and continues to deal with their ever-increasing neighbors. RATS also features 70-year-old veteran exterminator Ed Sheehan, who offers firsthand accounts of New York’s serious rat problem, which stretches from the dark sewers to the classiest restaurants and hotels in the city.
NEW ORLEANS – In the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, rats found a new home in the saturated, crumbling region of southern Louisiana. Now, the city houses the largest urban rat research project in the country, and scientists there are trying to understand the deep consequences of an exploding rat population. RATS spotlights the Rat Project team who dissect wild rats to determine what parasites they are carrying, including tape worms and botflies, and diseases such as Rickettsia and Bartonella For instance, Blum confirms that Leptospira, an infectious bacteria, is widespread throughout the city. “We’re finding prevalence rates in rats that are up to 20 to 25 percent throughout the city. 20 to 25 percent is epidemic proportion. It’s something that is a strong public health concern.”
VIETNAM – On the other side of the world, the Vietnamese hold a starkly different attitude toward the same creatures. In Vietnam, rats are gathered and purchased in bulk to be cooked and enjoyed as a meal. The film follows the animal’s journey from the rice fields of rural Cambodia where they are caught and sold to their final destination in the restaurants and homes of Ho Chi Minh City. In Vietnam, people make a decent living catching, selling, and transporting rats – and many say they make a delicious supper. As Mr Ret, a famous rat dealer in Vietnam explains, “I make my money on rats. I wish there were more.”
ENGLAND – In the English countryside, rats are notorious for destroying grain stocks and fertile farm land. Exterminators once trusted rodenticide to eliminate the infestation, but widespread genetic resistance to the chemical concoction is a growing obstacle for rodent researchers and farmers. To preserve their land and protect the livestock from ingesting poisoned rats, many farmers have returned to the old-fashioned method of using Plummer Terriers to catch the harmful critters. Proving effective, the country has to come to terms with using these terriers to hunt, or handle the consequences of an exploding rat problem.
INDIA – In Mumbai, rats are packed as tightly as the people. The combination of recent flooding, cramped living conditions, and an explosive population increase has procured prime real estate for rat colonies. A group of 31 men call themselves the “Night Rat Killers” and comb the streets at night to hunt down each rat one by one. Underfunding and overpopulation work against their mission – but without their determination, the spread of disease, such as Leptospirosis, and infestation is uncontrollable.
Just over 600 miles north of Mumbai is the Karni Mata Temple, otherwise known as the “Temple of Rats.” Nestled in the heart of Rajasthan, the holy Hindu temple attracts residents of the city who come to worship the 35,000 rats living within. Rajasthan legend has it that the deceased are reincarnated as rats, so hundreds flock to the temple every day to be with their loved ones.
A visitor to the temple explains, “These rats are the reincarnation of man. This is a grandfather, a mother, everyone who has died… it’s never disease, never plague, because this is my family.”
For those communities who are working to eliminate the abundance of rats, they should look to the way food waste is handled. The abundance of food and trash that is left on our streets is a breeding ground for more of these animals. “We put our garbage out at night, and it doesn’t get picked up until the morning. So the rats are on the clock, ten to fifteen minutes after that garbage goes out. It’s like if every night at 6 o’clock and somebody came and gave you food… why would you leave?” If we continue to increase garbage and dispose of it haphazardly, we will likely end up living with more rats.
Director, writer, producer Spurlock is an award-winning and Academy Award-nominated and is president and founder of full-service New York-based production studio Warrior Poets. His first film, SUPER SIZE ME, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. Since then he has directed, produced and distributed multiple film, television and digital projects, including the critically acclaimed television series “Morgan Spurlock Inside Man”, “7 Deadly Sins”, “30 Days” and the films “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden,” “Confessions Of A Superhero,” the Emmy(R) and WGA nominated The Simpsons 20th Annivesary Special: In 3-D and On Ice!,” “Freakonomics,” Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” “Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope,” “Mansome,” and “One Direction: This is Us.”
Discovery presents RATS produced by Warrior Poets in association with Dakota Films Ltd. and Submarine Entertainment for Discovery Channel. A film by Morgan Spurlock, inspired by the book RATS by Robert Sullivan. Edited by Pierre Takal; Director of Photography, Luca Del Puppo; Composer, Pierre Takal. Executive produced by David Koh, Josh Braun, Dan Braun, and Stanley Buchthal. For Discovery, John Hoffman is executive producer and Alexandra Moss and Ryan Harrington are supervising producers. Produced by Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, and Suzanne Hillinger. Written by Jeremy Chilnick and Morgan Spurlock. Directed by Morgan Spurlock.