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Winner of Best Short Film – Scratching the Surface

Winner of Best Short Film – Scratching the Surface

Scratching the Surface follows the extraordinary work of the APOPO and their scent detection rats as they help to rid the world of landmines.


When you think of rats ‘helpful’ might not be among the first words that spring to your mind. However, after watching this SCINEMA 2020’s winner of Best Short Film, Scratching the Surface, you might just change your opinion on these furry creatures.

Directed by Bethany Staley, Scratching the Surface shares the story of international organisation APOPO and their quest to clear Cambodia of landmines.

In a clever initiative, APOPO has trained Giant African Pouched Rats, nicknamed HeroRats, to sniff out landmines which remain buried in the ground in Cambodia, despite decades passing since the conflict ended.

The rats, which are too light to trigger the mines, use their highly developed sense of smell to detect the hidden danger below the surface. Once detected, the humans take over from their furry co-worker and mark the spot before a specialised team moves in to clear the mine.

Scratching the Surface follows this extraordinary partnership and the impact their work is having on those local communities who have been dodging landmines since the conflict ended decades ago. The film also sheds light on the unique relationship between the rats and their human co-workers.

So far, the HeroRats and their human counterparts have found over 45,000 mines and released 15 million square metres of safe land back to the local communities who have no choice but to live alongside the mines.

As SCINEMA 2020 judge Lee Constable points out, while the rats may look cute in their work harnesses, the danger they face leaves you on the edge of your seat.

“This does what film should in making the viewing experience a physical experience – I’m not sure I took a breath in any of the mine detection sequences. Also, the rats! With their little harnesses!”

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For more details about the individual films, visit the Award Winners page.

Image: One of the HeroRats with an APOPO worker. Credit: Supplied.

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