FORGET the Oscars. Forget Miss World. Forget the World Cup. The only prize that matters to members of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club is ‘Best Bird in Show’, handed out at the annual New Zealand National Show.
Salvko Martinov’s sparkling documentary, Pecking Order (out in cinemas on 29 September), follows this club as they prepare to battle it out for the prestigious trophy.
The film gets up close with the quirky individuals at the heart of this competition, as well as the constant infighting that threatens to pull this 148-year-old club apart.
Do not be put off. This is a documentary with enough laughs to rule the roost.
As suggested by the film’s opening image of the globe as a chicken egg, bird pageantry is not only serious business for these individuals, but a way of life. Success at this level of competition means early starts, meticulous attention to detail, love of the process and a bit of luck.
As Brett Hawker – a chicken breeder for more than 30 years – points out, the dedication and addiction to preparing these birds can be akin to alcoholism. So much so that it can be hard on the families, he admits without a hint of irony.
But what makes a bird good looking, you may ask. Well, the New Zealand Poultry Standard (Third Edition) provides the essential guidelines. ‘It is something everyone should have,’ remarks Ian Selby, who first competed way back in 1959. Now a judge, Selby shows off a stack of magazines, journals and papers on the subject – there is a fine science to this bird beauty contest.
There is also no space for sentiment in this fiercely competitive environment. Those birds which fail to make the grade – and a bird supposedly knows whether it is good looking or not – end up in the roast pot. Tough luck.
Martinov does a tremendous job, supported by a folksy soundtrack, of capturing the spirit of club members. From father-son combination Mark and Rhys Lilley to 16-year-old Sarah Bunton, we get an understanding of the reasons behind their passion and, beyond the laughter, genuine investment in their success at the National Show.
Stars of the film are eccentric competitor Brian Glassey and elderly club President Doug Bain. Glassey, with his sparse-toothed grin, warms from a slightly creepy introduction to become a hugely likeable figure.
As does Doug, whose position as President comes under serious threat from an intended coup. The desire, from disruptive club members such as Marina Steinke, to modernise puts slow-talking Doug on the back foot. With feathers ruffled, Doug retorts in – highly amusing – cross-armed stubborn and cranky fashion.
There are few scenes that go by without evoking a smile or chuckle. Pecking Order is a clucking good film – odd, charming and surprisingly touching. A cult classic has been laid. More rewarding than a KFC.
Pecking Order is out in cinemas on September 29
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