Dir.: Slavko Martinov; Documentary; New Zealand 2017, 88 min.
New Zealand born director/writer Slavko Martinov (Propaganda) has lovingly crafted a portrait of Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club, whose whole existence is under threat just – two years before their 150th anniversary. What starts as a Mockumentary, turns into a very humane observation about ordinary people and their obsession with feathered friends – and themselves. Pecking Order is a little gem: just short enough to keep our attention, making us smile at the serious competitors battling for glory – and ourselves.
It has to be said that the feathered friends in question – mostly chicken – really do live the life of Riley: they have their special diets such as fresh Hazelnuts, before a bath in the kitchen sink, and afterwards they are dolled up with the blow dryer and combs. That is, if they are seen as worthy material for the prizes given out at the National Show. Otherwise, it’s the dinner table or, for the younger ones, the ‘Chicken Heaven’.
The Club’s crisis could not have come at a worse time as the preparations for the National Show, held at Oamaru, should by now be in full swing. But since the veteran Doug Bain has taken up presidency of the club – albeit as a caretaker, – things are not Going according to plan: open rivalry has broken out, one side supporting Doug, the other wanting him to be replaced with Mark Lilley, a much younger man, who is supposed to take the club into the 21st century – with the internet and all that. This amusing narrative ricks over as we enjoy a chaming slice of New Zealand life which still seems stuck in the 1950s.
We also learn to take the ‘bible’ of the club seriously: The New Zealand Poultry Standard, a chuncky tome written by Ian Selby, who tells everyone at the club to study it carefully before going to National Show. One of the competitors is sixteen-year old Sarah Bunton, who admits freely, that she is obsessed with chicken.
Finally, just before the National Show opens, peace is restored. At the event in Oamuru, the final judgement is left to ‘neutral’ judges from Australia, who after long deliberations, give their verdict. One of the runners-up is surprisingly sanguine about the outcome: he has never married, and lives just for his hens and cockerels. “One day, they will find me on the ground between the cages”. AS
IN CINEMAS FROM 29 SEPTEMBER 2017