Thank goodness for documentary filmmakers. Without them we’d lack insight and even awareness of a whole gamut of oddball head-scratching topics. Without Slavko Martinov specifically, we’d have stayed ignorant of New Zealand competitive poultry showing and the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club.
Martinov entwines two narratives in an alternating structure; a rundown of poultry showing for the uninitiated via the Christchurch club’s 2015 season efforts, and an overview of the society’s escalating internal political turmoil. This approach creates a level of engagement which transcends the immediate comedic satisfaction of Pecking Order’s eccentric figures and quirky world, allowing suspense to build. Even while you’re chuckling at one storyline, curiosity about the other bubbles on the backburner of your mind. As the all-important National Show approaches and tensions within the club’s committee reach a crescendo, Martinov’s film assimilates the trajectory of a typical sports movie, yet its feathered subjects add a freshness that tennis or boxing movies can no longer achieve.
But for all the beautifully frolicking fowls – cinematographer Mike Kelland has a great eye for charming, candid wildlife moments – Martinov also imbues Pecking Order with a continual dark edge. He’s alert to the contagion of suspicion which pervades the club, and takes pains to hint toward the limitation and potential bias his subjects placed upon Pecking Order by documenting their requests to stop filming.
As well as a great respect and aptitude for bird-related wordplay, Pecking Order respects its subjects; Martinov never picks sides among the club’s factions, yet his neglect of pigeons in favour of chooks feels telling in itself.
Pecking Order is an uproariously entertaining doc. It’s informative yet certainly incomplete – the tale of its genesis would likely be as gripping, and surely even darker. If only Martinov was as ambitious as the bird breeders he presents.
CAST: Doug Bain, Sarah Bunton, Bob Dawber, Brian Glassey
DIRECTOR: Slavko Martinov
WRITER: Slavko Martinov
SYNOPSIS: Fierce rivalries, club infighting, problematic birds and irregular judging are just some of the challenges faced by a group of zealous Kiwi chicken breeders hell-bent on victory at the 2015 National Poultry Show.