‘Rat Race’ finishes first at MIPDoc Co-Production Challenge

Rounding out the first day of MIPDoc was the sixth edition of its popular public pitch session, the MIPDoc Co-Production Challenge, presented in association with realscreen. This year's winning project shines the spotlight on a charismatic rat killer in Mumbai and his team.
April 12, 2010

In its sixth year, the MIPDoc Co-Production Challenge, presented by Reed MIDEM and realscreen, aims to find the most innovative program with a potential for international distribution and coproduction partnerships. Six producers from around the world convened in Cannes this past weekend to pitch to the CBC’s executive director factual entertainment, Julie Bristow; RAI commissioning editor Lorenzo Hendel; A&E Television Networks’ VP international programming Michael Katz; ITVS’s VP of programming Claire Aguilar and jury chair and BBC Storyville commissioning editor, Nick Fraser.

The first project presented was Notion Pictures Ltd.’s Burning Needs (UK), a doc which follows a British scientist as he tries to persuade Honduran farmers to implement a sustainable farming technique to replace ‘slash and burn’ farming in the rainforest. Director Adam Wakeling called his film one of the few environmental films that has some good news to deliver. The jury seemed interested in Burning Needs but pointed out that there are already a lot of eco stories out there and wanted to see more of the human element behind the story.

Next up was French prodco de films en aiguille and American director Shola Lynch with Free Angela, a feature-length doc on the trial of activist and educator Angela Davis. Lynch radiated enthusiasm as she described the lead up to the death penalty trial of Davis, a known communist in Los Angeles in the ’70s, for her alleged involvement in a prison escape which resulted in the deaths of police officers. Lynch says the doc is intended to play out in a Rashomon style, using exclusive photographs and the current reflections of Davis and other key players to show various sides of the trail. The jury felt the enthusiasm of the team on this pitch but was unsure of the role the exclusive access to Davis would play in the film.

Partner Pictures out of the U.S. presented From Texas to Tehran, a doc following an amateur basketball player from the U.S. who gets an opportunity to play professionally in Iran. While he is helping to bring the team to the finals in Iran, he befriends women who are struggling for social change in their country and learns that many of the beliefs he initially held about the region were wrong. The trailer for this doc incited applause from attendees; however, the jury felt it was hard to tell if the focus would be on basketball or the political landscape in Iran.

Listopad by U.F.O. Pictures from the Czech Republic had the most complex premise of the docs presented. Looking back at the Velvet Revolution in Prague – an overturn of the communist government fueled by repression as exemplified in a violent attack by riot police on a student demonstration in 1989 – the doc follows three people who were at the original demonstration. It tells the story of these three participants between then and now, and watches them as they react to a modern reenactment of the demonstration, being filmed for a feature. Nick Fraser said the jury’s main concerns with this project were that it couldn’t tell what the reenactments were for, and questioned its currency as the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution has just passed.

Sudan in Fragments by Lobodocs/ Aegis Trust (UK), will be a two-hour television doc following a Sudanese man who has been living in the UK as he returns to his homeland to see how his family is living today. An emotional road trip, the jury felt it was hard to tell if the main character could carry the film as narration is being considered. Still, Fraser said it seemed like a compelling story.

The final pitch was for Filament Pictures’ The Rat Race (Mumbai) the story of a troop of government workers in Mumbai that has one of the most sought-after jobs in the city: rat killer. Apparently there is an equal ratio of people to rats in Mumbai, so 50 men hold the title of rat killer, walking the streets whacking rats with sticks. The most compelling aspect of this film, aside from the curios nature of this highly desired job, is the main character, Behran Harda, who is the head of the team and has been performing this job for 34 years. Harda has kept detailed records of all of his kills (of which there have been 2.8 million) and director Miriam Chandy Menacherry says he likens himself to James Bond because ‘he too has a license to kill.’

The jury was enthralled with the story of Harda, who, as Nick Fraser put it, ‘does a fucking good job dispatching rats.’ Thus, the project was awarded first place, and Fraser also said he’d personally like to hear more about the project.

As winner of the Co-Production Challenge, Menacherry gets free entry to MIPDoc 2011, free submission of her film to the MIPDoc 2011 Digital Library, a one-year subscription to realscreen and a one-on-one meeting with a jury member post pitch.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.