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Video clip synopsis – Ambition, courage, envy, betrayal, disaster, triumph ... in other words a classic study of politics.
Year of production - 1996
Duration - 5min 40sec
Tags - DIY Doco, documentary genre, politics, see all tags


Rats in the Ranks

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About the Video Clip


This video clip is an excerpt from the film Rats in the Ranks, produced in 1996.

Politics is a bruising business. The best policies in the world mean nothing unless you’ve got the numbers. This film takes a behind-locked-doors look at how politicians get the numbers. Every September Sydney’s Leichhardt Council elects its mayor. Incumbent Larry Hand is popular with the citizenry but they don’t vote for mayor, the 12 councillors do and after three years of Larry some of them are after his job.

A Film Australia and Arundel Films Co-Production in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Channel Four and La Sept ARTE.

Curriculum Focus



Students read and view texts that entertain, move, parody, investigate, analyse, argue and persuade. These texts may include documentaries that contain accessible but challenging issues that deal with local, national and international events. They explore personal, social, cultural and political issues of significance to the students’ own lives.

Students understand that readers and viewers may need to develop knowledge about particular events, issues and contexts to interpret texts.


When students write information or argument texts, they make appropriate selections of information from a few sources and attempt to synthesise and organise these in a logical way.

Students write imaginative texts in print and electronic mediums that contain personal, social and cultural ideas and issues related to their own lives and communities and their views of the expanding world.

Speaking and listening

Students speak and listen through discussions. They understand that speaking and listening provides opportunities to examine issues, evaluate opinions, argue points, make judgements in order to persuade others and convince listeners.

These are extracts only. For details go to the National Curriculum Statements for English.

Background Information


Each year, as part of the democratic process all over Australia, local councillors meet to elect a mayor to lead their council for the next year. Rats in the Ranks tells the story of this process in the Leichhardt council area of Sydney in 1994. Every September, the Leichhardt council meets to elect one of their twelve members as the Mayor and another for deputy Mayor for the following year. The election is rarely a straightforward affair. In 1994, the current mayor, Larry Hand, was popular with the citizens, but they don’t vote for the mayor, the councillors do –and after three years of Larry, some of them were after his job.

In Rats in the Ranks, filmmakers Bob Connolly and Robin Anderson trace the story of the struggle for the position of mayor. The film shows us what goes on behind the scenes in the battle for the position of mayor. Connolly and Anderson had extraordinary access to the councillors who were willing to be filmed in the lead up to the election. Arms are twisted, favours are called in, people are double-crossed, damaging stories are leaked to the media and deals are done. But, right up to the actual vote by the councillors, no one knows who will be elected mayor.

The mayor of council is a position which carries heavy responsibilities and the mayor controls large amounts of money and human resources. In Leichhardt the yearly budget is over $40 million and there are more than 500 council workers.

The film is a real-life drama and fascinating portrait of how politics works at a local council level. It provides a powerful insight into the election process and peoples’ desire to be leaders. It exposes the ‘rats’ in the ranks.

In 1996, Rats in the Ranks won the Silver Plaque for Social/Political Documentary at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Critics Choice Award for Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival. In 1998, it won the Logie Award for Outstanding Documentary series/program.

Classroom Activities


Observation style
Observational documentary style is also called ‘fly on the wall’ or cinema verite [French for ‘film truth’]. It usually means hand held cameras, no rehearsals and plenty of footage shot – from which a story is constructed. In this style of documentary the filmmaker appears to be ‘invisible’.

  1. View the video clip and answer the following questions
    1. What scenes are captured in the opening shots?
    2. What does the filmmaker tell us through the use of text on the screen?
    3. Why does the filmmaker include shots of name bars?
    4. What is the film technique ‘fade to black’ used to indicate?
    5. How do we know that the scenes were not rehearsed?
    6. Write in bullet-point form what happens in the video clip.


  1. View the video clip several times and explain:
    1. Who says the dialogue? (see list below)
    2. To whom is it spoken?
    3. What does it mean?
    4. What does it tell the viewer about the personality of the character who said it?
  • “Off the record”
  • “Kate walked into an ambush”
  • “Well, this is a farce”
  • “Just can’t break this umbilical cord to Larry Hand – he’s got control of these two”
  • “Labour could stand a remarkably good chance of taking out mayor”
  • “It’s quite outside the rules”
  • “You’ve got an obsession about me”


  1. Discuss the following questions.
    1. What does ‘Rats in the Ranks’ mean?
    2. How does the filmmaker introduce the main character of Larry Hand?
    3. What is your first impression of Larry Hand?
    4. Larry Hand is the current mayor. What does he say about his previous elections?
    5. Do you think that Larry Hand is a ‘rat’ in the ranks?
    6. Who does the filmmaker set up to be the ‘rats’ in the ranks and how does he do this?
    7. Are there any groups that you know of that have ‘rats’ in the ranks?

Activity extension
Write a 500-word review about Rats in the Ranks for a local radio station, advising listeners to watch the film because it’s all about ambition, courage, envy and betrayal.

Further Resources


Go to the DIY DOCO website for further information on observational style documentaries and teacher’s notes for Rats in the Ranks.