RATS IN THE RANKS
Directors / Producers / Cinematography / Sound: Bob Connolly & Robin Anderson
Production Co.: Arundel Films
Executive Producer: Chris Oliver
Additional Photography: Tony Wilson
Editor: Ray Thomas
Mayor Larry Hand
Councillor Kate Butler
Councillor Neil Macindoe
Councillor Trevor Snape
Councillor Bob Heffernan
Councillor Nick Origlass
Councillor Helen Stiles
other Councillors and staff of the Leichhardt Council
No Certificate (exempt)
Best Documentary, Australian Film Critics’ Awards, 1997
Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, who made a celebrated trilogy of films about tribal conflicts in Papua-New Guinea, returned home for Rats in the Ranks, an astonishing, suspenseful film about a local council election for mayor, which has almost Shakespearian characters and deals with the most basic betrayals and treacheries.
- David Stratton, Variety International Film Guide 1997, London 1997
Filming for nine months and culling from 65 hours of footage, [Connolly and Anderson] have fashioned an intimate portrait of local government in the lead up to the annual mayoral election. But this is not about the day to day workings of a council (ratepayers’ complaints, road maintenance or even the notorious third runway), the only rats in this town would appear to be in the chambers.
Once again, the filmmakers focus down on the particular to illustrate the general. Once again, under analysis are the fundamental forces which drive people - the ‘tribal’ elements of human relationships with which the filmmakers are not unfamiliar.
Camera-hungry, leather-jacketed Larry Hand emerges as the natural star of this drama: Larry is clearly inspired by the call of office and has become very comfortable in the mayoral chair over the previous two years. While in principle Larry should stand down for another councillor to take the mayoralty, he is reticent to do so. Meanwhile the Labour councillors, who have the majority on the council, are squabbling over who will get their nod - and thus almost certainly the robes of office (and its full-time salary).
Behind the scenes jostling, ‘off the record’ phone calls to journalists and alarmingly rubbery political positions are the basis of the drama, which through inspired observations and editing are brought to a level of grandeur, of drama almost Shakespearian in its skullduggery and deception, that will leave you gasping.
- Tait Brady, Melbourne Film Festival Programme 1996
Rats in the Ranks is about raw politics, as it’s played in the inner city Sydney municipality of Leichhardt. Just how raw is one of the revelations of the film. Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson, after three films set in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, decided to film the 1994 mayoral elections in Leichhardt, not on the hustings, but in the back rooms. Most of the 12 councillors gave their unprecedented access, none more so than the mayor Larry Hand, who becomes the film’s central dramatic figure. Hand, ex-Labour party, is chasing seven votes to win and he’s behind. The four Labour councillors are split, and Hand’s alliance with one of them, Kate Butler, may or may not hold. Some of the independents dislike him, others are wavering. At one stage, it looks as if almost half the councillors want his job. The approaching ballot gives the film great dramatic tension, but the councillors give it high comedy. There’s a broad range of human behaviour at play - naked ambition, enmities that go back years, deceit, threats, bullying, and occasional momentary outbreaks of principle. Policy is rarely mentioned. This is politics at its most unguarded, captured as it happened, by two of our greatest documentary filmmakers.
- Paul Byrnes, Sydney Film Festival 1996