Pecking Order

Review by Isobel Raphael

Directed by

Slavko Martinov

Starring

Bob Dawber Doug Bain Sarah Bunton

Anticipation.

It’s a film about – let me get this right – members of a New Zealand Poultry Club?

Enjoyment.

Really quite delightful.

In Retrospect.

Never judge a film by its cover.

This charming documentary examines the wacky world of obsessive competitive chicken breeding in New Zealand.

Slavko Martinov’s film places its tongue firmly in cheek with its approach to the lives of New Zealand’s most dedicated poultry breeders. As the politics of the Christchurch Bantam and Pigeon Club descends into chaos, and anticipation mounting over the upcoming National Poultry Show, there is more tension created than one could ever believe possible in a film about birdie bubble baths and blow dries.

Martinov draws upon the eccentricity of his characters without descending into mockery. There is a sensitivity in the camera’s relationship with each individual, evident in lingering shots that feel gentle and attentive. One particularly committed chicken breeder, a gap-toothed Brian Glassey, gives us an insight into the strenuous life of chicken rearing.

He admits, almost joyfully, that no woman would ever have him, as he is too dedicated to his poultry. “That’s life in the fast lane” says Glassey, completely unperturbed by finding a tiny chick carcass on his wander around a coup. And it goes without saying that many more chickens don’t make the final cut, either ending up in “chickie heaven” or as pot roast.

National Poultry Show competition judge, Ian Selby, has standards of poultry perfection that instil a ruthlessly competitive rivalry in contestants. In a more sinister moment, it is suggested that participants may poison each others’ birds, so set are they are on winning. Selby sincerely proclaims himself to be ‘the luckiest man in the world’ having had the astonishing determination to memorise the bible-like ‘New Zealand Poultry Standard’.

However curious this film is, Martinov touches on universal themes of passion and dedication. The tipping from obsession into the downright crazy is comical only because it is so relatable. As one chicken enthusiast tells us, “It’s like alcoholism. When you love something you won’t give it up.” It is a celebration of cultural diversity and supports the notion that every way of life deserves a platform in which to be respectfully represented.

The film is instantly absorbing and, best of all, unexpectedly so. Do not make the mistake of being perturbed by the obscure subject matter – you would have to be pretty hard of heart not to enjoy this.

Published 28 Sep 2017

Anticipation.

It’s a film about – let me get this right – members of a New Zealand Poultry Club?

Enjoyment.

Really quite delightful.

In Retrospect.

Never judge a film by its cover.

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