Over the next few weeks, our writer in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies from the festival.
Overview: A look at the competitive world of New Zealand poultry pageantry. Vendetta Films; 2017; Rated-PG; 88 mins
Chickens: The world of poultry pageantry, or chicken fancying, is a hardcore world. After all, this is a competition that requires you to raise, from an egg, a chicken that will eclipse all over chickens (in New Zealand at least). The level of work required, the dedication, the number of ‘ugly’ chickens you have to eat, and the politics looks overwhelming. Pecking Order is all about those men and women who strive to be the best, to raise the best chicken and win the national best in show. They are a lovely bunch of people whose level of seriousness about the competition differs quite drastically from Rhys Lilley, a kid who is just in it to win it, to Ian Shelby, the man who literally wrote the book on poultry pageantry and who keeps an entire room of his house aside for his collection of poultry magazines and newspapers from all over the world that he uses for research when raising birds.
Passion: It’s wonderful to see people engage in something they are so passionate about and something that takes up whole chunks of their lives as they strive to be the best in show. Pecking Order is a wonderful documentary because even if chicken fancying isn’t your cup of tea, the people in the movie are not presented as subjects to be mocked. I found their passion enviable. It’s easy in the modern world to fall into cynicism about other people enjoying something niche and esoteric but good on them for putting their heart and soul into something. It’s clear in every frame of this movie that these people love what they do, love talking about it, and are over the moon to be given the chance to share their knowledge and experience with the world.
Politics: One thing that makes Pecking Order such compulsive viewing is the power struggle at the heart of the movie as the presidency of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club is contested by a group of free-thinking rebels in the club who want young blood in the leadership, and who are opposed by some of the old guard who want things to stay being run as they have for the past 148 years. We get bits and pieces of this struggle in the club room while other parts are recounted to us. The whole thing sometimes feels as though we’re watching a low-stakes, chicken-centric House of Cards as alliances are formed and people are ousted all for the greater good of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club.
Overall: Pecking Order is a wonderful documentary. The people of New Zealand are such incredible, natural comedians and the characters in this movie are so full of exuberance and love for what they do that it is infectious. The animals on display are gorgeous and it’s fascinating to watch the judges work and see the process unfold from egg to champion. There is some darkness in the movie with the power struggle and a brief section that addresses what happens to the chickens that aren’t competition worthy, but on the whole this is a light, fun documentary about a world we didn’t know existed, and which seems populated by lovely passionate people with an eye for a gorgeous chicken.
Featured Image: Seville International