Canadian Women Film Directors Database
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Rat Life and Diet in North America

Directed by Joyce Wieland
Canada, 1968 (avant-garde, 16 minutes, colour)

Film Description:
"The 'rats' in the film, who are actually gerbils [...] escape from their cage and evade those who held them prisoners, the cats. On their way they have many adventures, including breaking into the house of a millionaire and stuffing themselves with rich foods from his table. They arrive in Canada in time for cherry season and have a cherry festival and celebrate with a flower ceremony as well. There they will live in peace and grow their own organic vegetables."
-- Jane Lind (source)

Film Description [in French] :
"Un groupe de rats s'échappent de prison et s'enfuient au Canada."
-- Jana Vosikovska (source)


Notes about Rat Life and Diet in North America


Quotes by the Director

"Films like Catfood, 1933, Sailboat, are all working in new areas of seeing and thinking. But Rat Life and Diet in North America contains the seed of something else. It had a message and a very accessible story. It was bought by German and Netherlands television, and was shown on the Canadian network. After it was shown on Canadian TV, people I know or didn't know told me how much they liked it, including a man who drove a truck for Pepsi Cola, whom I met at the Pilot Tavern."
-- Joyce Wieland (source)

"I was sick of all these little groups, like little priesthoods of understanding, groups that believed in one theory or another, and I found things drying up towards the late sixties. I also had been reading what the nationalist writers had been writing and I had been reading my own history again and had been very much involved with American history and various demonstrations and all kinds of political work there. Finally, when I took all this into consideration, I realized that the statistics looked terrible in terms of Canada surviving as a nation. I began to absorb that into my work and I did Rat Life and Diet in North America and then started the quilted works."
-- Joyce Wieland (source)

"My political interests became evident in my film works about five years ago, when I became anxious about Canada and the American takeover. The interest showed itself first in the art works and then went over into the film works and influenced them. Rat Life and Diet in North America is the first film I made that involved Canada as a subject and had any political reference. It is about coming back to Canada."
-- Joyce Wieland (source)

Quotes about Rat Life and Diet in North America

"In Rat Life and Diet in North America [Wieland] links the technological imperative with the imperialist ambitions of the American Empire, a society of death the rats (played by gerbils) must flee to find happiness in organic gardening on the Canadian side of the border."
-- Brenda Longfellow (source)

"At the University of Kansas, I saw Joyce Wieland's Rat Life and Diet in North America for the eighth time, and it holds. [...] It may be the best (or richest) political movie around. It's all about rebels (enacted by real rats) and police (enacted by real cats). After a long suffering under the cats, the rats break out of the prison (in a full scale rebellion) and escape to Canada. There they take up organic gardening, with no DDT in the grass. It is a parable, a satire, an adventure movie, or you can call it pop art or any art you want—I find it one of the most original films made recently."
-- Jonas Mekas (source)

"The rodent-heroes [in Rat Life and Diet in North America] are revolutionaries and stand-in for Vietnam War resisters, who escape from captivity in the United States and successfully cross the border into Canada—which is now a countercultural dream-come-true, allowing the animals to bliss out amid fruit and flowers accompanied by a groovy soundtrack. With this coherent storyline and commitment to a political cause, [Joyce] Wieland diverges from the antinarrative stance taken by devotees of the Structural Film movement."
-- Johanne Sloan (source)

"When [Joyce] Wieland claimed she 'couldn't make aesthetic statements in New York any more,' this was not because other artists in the U.S. did not share her political views [...]. Circa 1971, it seemed that politicized artists in the U.S. had no choice, however, but to make art that was critical, angry, and oppositional. In Canada, Wieland foresaw the possibility of making art that was equally politically-engaged, yet profoundly different because it was affirmative and utopian, and because it was participating in a larger project to reinvent the nation. Rat Life and Diet in North America announced the emergence of a different kind of political art."
-- Johanne Sloane (source)

Bibliography for Rat Life and Diet in North America

Brief Sections of Books

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