Rabbit Fever the Movie – A Review

Rabbit fever movie youth royalty

At last!  A movie about us Rabbit People!

Recently I finally got the opportunity to watch the movie Rabbit Fever.  And you know what?  I’m glad I did.

Created by Amy Do, Rabbit Fever is a full-length documentary about the rabbit showing hobby.  It focuses on the ARBA Youth Royalty contest, following five young rabbit breeders in their quests to become the ARBA King or Queen.  We’ve been hearing about the production of this movie for years, and now it’s finally available via DVD and streaming at RabbitFever.com.  Amy gave about ten years and most of the resources she had – including funds she had intended to put toward a house – to producing this film, and I’m glad to be able to thank her for that effort.

A Very Personal Connection

ARBA Royalty Contests were the focus of my teenage years.  Like the “stars” in the movie, I poured all my effort into my dream of winning ARBA Queen.  In fact, the kids featured in the movie were my role models.  They were in the age group just above me, and so were the very people that I held in high respect.  Jeremy Garrett helped coach me in Royalty, and Jenna Anderson’s mom answered some of my questions when I was studying.

For a long time I didn’t want to see this movie.  Royalty contests were just too close to my heart.  Since I never did win National Queen (though I was twice a runner-up), I was afraid that seeing this movie would arouse competitive feelings that I didn’t want creeping back.  I was afraid that the movie wouldn’t depict the hobby accurately, that it would play up the Royalty contests to be different than they actually are, or caricaturize rabbit breeders as total weirdoes.  But it doesn’t.  I can say with confidence that Rabbit Fever portrays the hobby exactly as it is, and overall in a very positive light.  (In other words, if it does make rabbit breeders out to be total weirdoes, then I am too much of one myself to notice!)

The Content is Real

Amy did a great job capturing the spirit of rabbit royalty contests: so many young people putting so much time and effort into the project, when only a few come away with an award.  She shows how some youth members have worked at it for most of their lives, and how they give up “normal” teenage activities to focus on their rabbit projects.  She touches on both the hardcore “If I don’t win I’ll cry” competitiveness, and also the priceless friendships that youth members build with each other.  These major themes are brought to life by the little details that are oh-so-accurate, like the total randomness of the judging callbacks, and how easy it is to blow the four-minute interview that makes or breaks your chance at the crown.

Honestly when the film was over, it felt more like I had flipped through one of my personal scrapbooks than that I had just watched a movie.  Of course, it helped that I recognized a huge percentage of the people in it and even spotted myself in the background of one shot.  (I remember Amy being at Convention filming, but I didn’t know at the time that she was making a movie.)   I was there at that banquet in 2005, and at others in later years.  The film brought back the hold-your-breath jitters when the winners were being announced.  I identified with the girls on stage receiving their awards, and also with Lindsey Lauterbach looking into the happy banquet room once her royalty career was over and thinking, “this used to be me.”

These are my friends! A screenshot from the movie showing some Michigan team members

Film Quality is Good

To me the film feels a little rushed, but there’s so much to tell about the rabbit hobby, and an hour and twenty-three minutes is so little time.  Cavies, team contests, and local shows were barely mentioned, and breed judging is covered only briefly.  But when we consider how many facets this hobby has, it’s easy to see how Amy shot over 150 hours of footage for this film.  I was really impressed at how family-friendly the film is.  It’s (virtually) free of bad language and any political slant, and features some super cute animations.  My one minor complaint is that it implies that Joe Kim won convention BIS in 2005, when he actually won in 2003.

The Take-Away’s

If you are an ARBA royalty hopeful, then watch this film.  I strongly recommend it.  It portrays the contests very accurately and, since it allows you to see into the lives of other participants, helps put the whole thing in perspective.   Two-time ARBA King Jeremy Collins nails it when he says in the film that the top contestants are all smart kids, and they’ve all done their studying, and so they have really similar scores when it comes down to the interview.  Any one of them “deserves” to win – it’s just a matter of who comes off well to the interview judges.  And even after the interview, the scores between the Queen and 4th Runner-Up are very, very close… in 2008 it was 30 points out of 1000, to be exact.  So if you don’t win, it doesn’t mean that you weren’t good, and it doesn’t mean that you wasted your time. Not at all.

Like the movie says, even when you win, the fame and glory fades really fast: Long-time rabbit breeders see generation after generation of youth go by.  It’s terribly clichéd, but I’ll say it again: the real prize these contests hold out to us is not a tiara, but the person you become while trying to achieve it.  4-H and ARBA Royalty contests really do build confident and capable youth members that will continue to succeed long after they turn 19.

Thanks for this movie, Amy Do.  Nice Job.

And psst, Royalty contestants —  listen closely to Paula Courtney in the film talking about what the judges are looking for in the Royalty interview.  She is dead-on, and shares the most important interview tip I know.