Movie Review: Pecking Order - a celebration of passion, obsession and humanity's capacity for competitiveness
Pecking Order (PG)
85 mins, ★★★★
Slavko Martinov was originally spellbound by the prospect of doing a egg-to-champion chicken documentary. However, when he started attending the monthly meetings of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club he stumbled into something far more dramatic – the greatest crisis in the association's 148-year history.
In truth, the problems had been festering for a few years – the death of their long-serving and beloved president had thrown the club's natural order into chaos. Doug Bain assumed the Presidency, but his leadership style had ruffled a few feathers. However, a plan to hatch a coup at the 2014 AGM failed to take off. A few scrambled again to try and oust him, but were stymied by the club rules, so meetings took place in amongst the rotten air of open hostility. By the time, the club's annual 2015 show took place, there were threats of boycotts and even potential "fowl" play, as Bain accused many of his fellow members of Benedict Arnold-like behaviour.
* Pecking Order director Slavko Martinov says his film was a happy accident
* 'Flockumentary' Pecking Order premieres in Christchurch
* Pecking Order: Kiwi poultry club doco receives eggcellent first reviews
* Pecking Order: It's New Zealand's Best in Show – with chickens
* Meet the stars of Pecking Order, a documentary about the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam & Pigeon Club
A kind of Best in Show-meets-political-thriller by way of Country Calendar, Pecking Order is a Kiwi "Flockumentary" our dearly departed John Clarke would be proud of. A celebration of passion, obsession and humanity's capacity for competitiveness (even if it involves poultry pageantry), Martinov's tale is less about the birds and more about the characters who make up the club.
Memorable characters abound, from the irascible, KFC-munching Bain to the eccentric regular champion Brian Glassey and by-the-book judge (mainly because, as he tells us more than once, he literally wrote it) Ian Selby. While some of their antics elicit plenty of laughs, they are more out of recognition for our own quirks and contradictions. A key to the success of Pecking Order is that Martinov plays it straight, never undercutting his subjects for the sake of a cheap giggle. Instead, he allows their own self-effacing, sunny-sided demeanours a chance to shine, even amongst the club's turmoil.
Naturally one of the highlights is the 2015 National Show, lovingly captured in all its North Otago splendour by Martinov. It's hard not to get caught up in all the tension and trappings, as the visiting Aussie judges sort out the cock-of-the-walks from the feather-dusters and the top six receive a bagpipe serenade down to the separate final day judging arena.
Pecking Order won't be for everyone, 90-minutes will feel like a lifetimes-worth of leghorn discussion for some. Others might bridle at the backyard breeders hard-boiled approach to life and death.
However, you will certainly come out feeling more well informed – whether it's on the importance of knowing a judge's handsize, the power of hazelnuts and why purple is a no-no.