Rabbit Boss is a short documentary exploring an important dimension of American Indian life in the Great Basin. Every autumn, in sagebrush valleys east of the Sierra Nevada, Washoe Indians renew a connection with their natural environment. When the time is right, a leader known as the "rabbit boss" assembles a group of hunters to move through the brush, driving jackrabbits before them. As in the past, the rabbits are killed for their meat and pelts. Rabbit Boss follows the current leader, Marvin Dressler, on three rabbit drives in the basin-and-range country of the Washoe homeland. On-site footage and historic photos show how the rabbit drive has survived the twentieth century transformation of Washoe life, and excerpts from a decades-old home movie record the making of one of the last of the rabbit skin blankets.
Marvin Dressler (the Boss) is the principal narrator of the documentary, and his words are his own. Although he speaks English, his is an authentic Washoe account of the rabbit drive, the weaving of a rabbit skin blanket, and the importance of rabbits in Washoe life. In a world of social uncertainty, Rabbit Boss captures the strength of an enduring tradition. Its production was made possible in part by a grant from the Nevada Humanities Committee.
Rabbit Boss was recently chosen for screening at the 1998 American Anthropological Association Meetings in Philadelphia. It has also won awards at the New York and Columbus International Film Festivals and has been selected for screening at the following additional festivals:
21st Annual American Indian Film Festival
1997 Smithsonian American Indian Film and Video Festival
University of Montana Film Festival
"A poignant record of tenacious cultural survival and the role of a traditional leader in a modern Washoe community.... I recommend it as critical viewing for any course on Native American culture or history."
--Warren d'Azevedo, author of the "Washoe" chapter in the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians
"[Rabbit Boss] would be ideal for use in the classroom, and is an important document of past Washoe customs, one that probably could not have been put together in written form."
-- Jerome Edwards, Nevada Historical Society Quarterly
"[This film] is a story of revival and cultural vitality rather than one of mere survival.... The rabbit boss was an important role in traditional times and it remains so and therefore the Washoe remain Washoe. A really fine job of filmmaking."
-- James Downs, author of Two Worlds of the Washoe
"...the tape offers a unique Washoe perspective."
-- Ed Vogel, Las Vegas Review-Journal