Pecking Order: Film Review
A new documentary slice of kiwiana, cluttered with chicken puns, Pecking Order decides to take a look at the world of competitive chicken fancying.
(Well, if Mr Farrier and Mr Reeve can do it with tickling, why shouldn't a film-maker follow more poultry ideas?)
Going behind the scenes of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon club as it faces its greatest crisis in 148 years, director Slavko Martinov (Propaganda) manages to unearth more than just foxes in the hen house.
Part of the main drive of this, is the film's portrayal of parochial pettiness as it deals with the politics of running the club, which will no doubt be familiar to anyone involved in either A&P shows or any level of community clubs and societies.
With its mother hen who's been in charge forever, the documentary finds its "villain" of the piece, in the gentlest definition of the word, in president Doug Bain, who's been in charge of the show for a very long time.
A self-professed life-member of the Club, Bain's grip on the reins is the source of provocation as others preen their feathers and, in his eyes, puff themselves up to offer a challenge to his throne. As he deals with threats, Martinov's camera captures a fascinating explosion at a meeting where Bain's weariness at what he terms the "want to bes" bubbles over. It's a telling look at the generational differences that are prevalent and is perhaps the more interesting thread of the more slight entanglements which constitute Pecking Order's DNA.
There's a degree of paranoia festering in this coup / coop in more ways than one, but Martinov's keener to ensure that the doco stays out of provocative territory, preferring instead to sit back contentedly and watch others ruffle the feathers of the patriarch, rather than set the cat among these pigeons.
It's a revealing, but unsurprising, look at those who put themselves into committees and others' politics, and does much to celebrate the mythos that youngsters won't want to be involved in the stuffier older entrenched ways of the powers that be.
Wisely, Martinov peppers the documentary with some younger faces who are entering the sport for the fun of it. From kid Rhys, complete with his rat tail, dad looking on proudly and nervously, and his ethos of "I love the spotlight of winning, it's awesome", to fellow fancier Sarah who professes a love for chickens and no more, the stark contrast of ages and attitude comes to the fore with relative ease.
Martinov's HD approach with the cameras though, bizarrely and brilliantly manages to capture the beauty of the birds, with the reds and hues of their plumage shimmering starkly in close ups on the screen.
Every single chicken pun's been pulled from the lexicon for use on the titles, but the thread in the film is a lot thinner than perhaps you'd have expected. And whilst there are some droll dry moments, this is a gentle doco, content to let the ebb and flow of the narrative dictate the mood and the quirks of some trickle through the execution, rather than one which sees the pot stirred with overly dramatic gusto.
The final result is that it becomes a documentary that's more about documenting, and providing a portrait of life within the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon club, rather than giving you something incisive and thought-provoking.
There are notable people within Pecking Order, and a few truisms spouted throughout that reek of the Kiwi attitude and the laconic humours that lace the land, but there are only a handful (if that) of characters that stand out, meaning the whole documentary feels ever-so slightly undernourished and too slight to be fully memorable.
It's a gentle amble down the roads of poultry politics and petty perambulations of those involved in small town club politics, and while Martinov's careful enough to throw it all through a balanced prism and not overly mock his subjects, one can't help but shake the feeling a little more bite to this beautifully shot and pleasantly constructed doco may have put a bit more meat on the bones.