Pecking Order picks a pack of poultry people

A new documentary slice of Kiwiana, Pecking Order investigates the world of competitive chicken-fancying.

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 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 community clubs or societies.

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 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 paranoia festering in this coup/coop in more ways than one, but Martinov's keen 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 look at those who put themselves into committees and others' politics.

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 bizarrely and brilliantly manages to capture the beauty of the birds, with the hues of their plumage shimmering starkly in close-ups.

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 while there are some droll moments, this is a gentle doco, content to let the ebb and flow of the narrative dictate the mood and the quirks trickle through the execution.

The final result is 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 slightly undernourished to be fully memorable.

It's a gentle amble down the roads of poultry politics and petty perambulations of those involved in small-town clubs, 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.

Pecking Order
Director: Slavko Martinov
Classification: PG
Running time: 84 minutes

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