Rat Life and Diet in North America is a short film that tells a story about rats (actually pet gerbils) held as political prisoners in the United States (their jailer cat), who make a heroic escape to Canada.
Although this narrative is recounted through wryly worded intertitles, Wieland’s film nonetheless conveys a sense of menace and urgency. For these protagonists “Canada” becomes a utopian destination, promising abundance, pleasure and peace. Created in 1968, a time of international student protests against the military and capitalism, many young American men were feeling to Canada to avoid being drafted into the military.
This is one of Wieland’s most admired films. Jonas Mekas (b. 1922) a leading figure on the American experimental film scene, writes that Rat Life and Diet in north America “may be about the best (or richest) political movie around.”
With kind thanks to the distributor Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre.
About the Artist:
Joyce Wieland was one of Canada’s most influential woman artists best known for her experimental film making and mixed media art. She gained a unique respect for incorporating strong personal statements in her work about issues of feminism, nationalism and ecology long before it had become fashionable to do so. Her retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario was the first-ever afforded a living Canadian woman artist.
Image credit: Joyce Wieland, Rat Life and Diet in North America, 16mm film, film still, 1968