When I was a kid, one of my pets was a big meat chook that I named Samantha after the leading character in the 60s sitcom Bewitched. Samantha could be a cantankerous old bird, but I was awfully proud when she won the prize for “chicken with the scaliest legs” at my primary school pet day. The gloss of that win was rubbed off a few years later when I found out that every pet won a prize and there was nothing special about poor old Samantha.
With that anecdote in mind, I was curious to see Pecking Order, a kiwi documentary about a load of chicken fanciers throughout the country who are obsessed with poultry and with winning ‘best bird’ at the annual National Chicken Festival. That’s not its real name, but I couldn’t for the life of me concentrate hard enough while watching to remember the various ins and outs of this film
Pecking Order sets up a number of salt of the earth kiwi types: old, young, mad, power hungry, in their quest for the perfect bird. And what a demanding process it is – the slightest blemish, damaged feather or even a toe curling in the wrong direction is enough to disqualify a chook from a major prize.
Most of the action centres around the folks of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon club and their infighting over rules and who should be President of the 148 year old institution.
In some ways it was a mildly interesting story with some humorous moments and a curious and mostly likeable set of eccentric characters but I feel it would have been better as an episode of Country Calendar rather than a funded cinematic experience.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ‘nice’ film, and it does show a slice of New Zealand life that is hardly seen nowadays, and is probably dying out around the country. But to be honest Pecking Order felt like a ‘mockumentary’ – the kind of piss-take that kiwis are very good at delivering.
I suspect the participants may not be too pleased with the way they have been portrayed in the film and I wonder if the director explained to them what his intentions were. There’s nothing particularly nasty or bad in the film, in fact it’s quite sweet and curious, but the ‘drama’ in the club seems a little hyped and the overall feel is one of mild exploitation.
Another observation about this documentary is that (as far as we could see) the world of competitive chicken breeding in New Zealand is exclusively white. It may have escaped the filmmakers notice that there is a distinct lack of diversity in this film but perhaps that is the reality in the world of poultry competitions.
But hey, I might be just been a bit overly critical. I’m sure kiwis will flock to this movie and the filmmakers and the NZ Film Commission can add another feather to their cap.
Too much on the puns? Wait till you see the graphics and titles in this movie!
In cinemas 18th May 2017
Directed by: Slavko Martinov
Starring: A variety of kiwi types