“It’s not easy, y’know, being a chook fancier,” says Brian, an unfaltering example of the sort.
His roost is ruled by the Fancy Bantams, Rosecomb Cockerels and Gold-Laced Wyandottes worshipped by Christchurch’s Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club. When feathers fly in the lead-up to New Zealand’s National Poultry Show, Pecking Order captures every power grab, double-cross and burned bridge en route.
But the big question is: whose bird will be crowned New Zealand’s next top chicken?
In this “Kiwiana” morsel, director Slavko Martinov gets up close and personal with the South Island’s most chicken-fixated citizens. Alongside Brian (who could pass for Ian Parmenter’s eccentric cousin), there’s curmudgeonly club president Doug, levelheaded family man Mark, teenage “chicken whisperer” Sarah, virtuoso breeder Rhys, and meticulous judge Ian.
Christchurch’s poultry fanciers have been meeting to discuss all manner of fowl things since 1867. With equal serves of humour and empathy, Martinov succinctly distills the club’s history, wealth of knowledge and soap operatic dynamics – always laughing with, not at, its members. It’s fascinating to spend time with folks who thoroughly understand a subject that’s so far from mainstream. That said, if you’ve ever sat on a school committee, put your hand up for a fundraiser, or been the glue in a group project gone bad, Pecking Order will resonate.
The film invites comparison to mockumentary Best in Show (2000), for sure. It’s also similar to the more recent American documentary Chicken People (2016), which was a coup for Mercury Cinema earlier this year. While the latter is quite stylised, with ostensibly higher production value, it lacks the salt-of-the-earth sincerity of this Kiwi offering.
After all, Pecking Order isn’t just about what separates chook fanciers from the general public. It speaks to the universality of passion, tradition, and the fear of being left behind. It’s about animals who are friends, foes and food for humans, and how we rationalise those ideas. It’s about finding your place in a flock, and staying together, ’cause true friends are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Pecking Order plays at Adelaide Film Festival on Monday, October 9, and Sunday, October 15. Peruse the full program here, and read more Film Festival stories on InDaily here.