Review by Michael D Hollick
On the face of it, Pecking Order, a documentary about competitive chicken breeding in New Zealand, is not exactly something that screams ‘must see’. In fact, with memories of my Christmas lunch still fresh in my mind, the idea of watching chickens be groomed, pampered and put on show seemed not just kooky, but downright absurd. Yet come Boxing Day night there I was, sitting under the stars, soaking up the cool breeze as it drifted through the pines at Somerville, thoroughly engrossed in the goings-on of a bunch of ‘chicken fanciers’. Never count your chickens before they hatch, eh?
Pecking Order is a lively documentary that casts its net wide and comes up with a winner. Directed by Slavko Martinov, the film follows the trials and tribulations of the members of the 148-year-old Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club. Surprisingly, the club is a hotbed of political manoeuvres and leadership spills, and this only serves to add to the intrigue and humour of each of the film’s characters, as they prepare their birds for New Zealand’s annual National Poultry Show.
As with any hobby enthusiasts, there is bound to be a certain level of passion that is hard to logically understand and objectively will seem a bit ‘out there’. However, these individuals really are something else. Perhaps its their rural leanings and ignorance of information technology, or maybe it’s their intense focus on what they love, but the fact that each member’s wardrobe, language and even the interior design of their houses would look fitting in fictional New Zealand movies such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople or Boy, brings the film and its characters an authenticity that could never be reached if they were at the beck and call of a scriptwriter.
And it is these larger than life characters that steal the show. As the political rumblings continue and the intense competitiveness is ignited, the true colours of each character is put on display. The intricacies and nuances of each individual are skilfully captured by Martinov and his team, and it is a testament to them that they were able to get in so close and come away with an unprejudiced, pristine study in character. Redeemable qualities can be found in even the most conniving and competitive of the bunch, allowing you to laugh all the more, as each individual is not mocked, but praised for their intensity in following their passion.
In terms of its own competitors, the film shares many similarities with Christopher Guest’s mockumentary, Best in Show. And this speaks volumes, as god knows how Martinov stumbled across this weird mob; but the fact that film is just so damn entertaining on its own, organic merits is the true measure of success here. As each characters’ eccentricities draws a smile to your lips, and each new plot twist beggars belief, you are witness to a reality that is so strange that it could not possibly be written.
Now then, I am left with just one question. Which came first? The chicken? Or the egg?
MICHAEL D HOLLICK