Tuesday, 25 April 2017

PECKING ORDER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2017 HotDocsHotPick - Here, chickie, chickie.....

Special Note: This is the second film at this year's Hot Docs about farm animals I own (the first being Do Donkeys Act?). I was hoping for a hat-trick. Sadly, this is not to be. Festival Director Shane Smith has informed me that there surely must be some goats that appear somewhere in the festival, but I have yet to find them.
These people LOVE chickens. Then again, so do I.
If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Pecking Order (2017)
Dir. Slavko Martinov

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Full Disclosure: I own chickens.

Even if I didn't I'd have been able to enjoy this thoroughly entertaining and well-crafted look into the world of competitive poultry showcases in New Zealand. Director Slavko Martinov trains his cameras upon several members of the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club (which, in this year of Our Lord, 2017, is - like Canada - celebrating its sesquicentennial). Within a variety of sleepy rural Kiwi enclaves surrounding the club's head offices in the burgh of Riccarton, several members prep and preen over their flocks of fowl, the best of which will be presented for eventual inspection and judgement at a major exhibition of "chocks" (in the delightful vernacular of chickie-poo-fanciers).

It is to Martinov's credit that he presents the proceedings with a good, balanced eye, but also allows enough breathing room for the eventual hilarity that can - and must - ensue in any movie devoted to obsessive chicken lovers. Even better, Martinov never treats his subjects like wing nuts (which many of us chicken enthusiasts, admittedly, are). With a subject like this it could have been very tempting to apply a nasty tongue-in-cheek to the mise-en-scene, but he lets his charges (human and feathered) acquit themselves with dignity.

Not that there isn't mudslinging, though. One of the more fascinating elements in this examination of competitive chicken rearing is the crisis which develops within the club itself - a fairly stirring power struggle amongst its members. The rift is twixt the old and the new - yes, Martinov's film carefully focuses upon the wide age-range of chicken wranglers; seniors, middleaged, teens and kids are all represented here.

The bottom line, though, is that we're allowed to laugh with the subjects and not at them. Throughout the movie, while there are a series of cute title/chapter cards with a variety of chicken puns, none of them are there derisively and act simply as jovial, good-natured tools to drive the "drama" forward.

There is one thing in the film that disturbed me. It has nothing to do with the filmmaking, however. It has to do with an attitude amongst a few of the subjects that, uh, ruffled my own chicken-loving feathers. Yes, I do own chickens. I do so to allow them to live out their lives naturally and happily in a free-range environment (with a ridiculously sturdy, clean and comfy coop to retire to when the sun goes down) for the rest of their lives.

What made me raise more than a few of my two eyebrows (yes, I think I sprouted some new ones) was how I happily observed flock upon flock of domestic fowl living so happily in a free-range manner and thinking, "Wow! These people don't kill their chocks!" But as soon as I settled into this comfy idyll, it started: more than once did I hear comments about how the "bad" chickens (those not suited to chickie-competition glory) would have their necks wrung and end up in stewing pots.

That said, I was extremely happy when one of the subjects addressed the issue of the chickens having individual personalities. Yes, they do! God knows I'm aware of this in my own sweet chocks. And if there's anything for me to find fault with in the filmmaking is that I'd have loved to see a brief sequence demonstrating the joys inherent in said personalities. However, given how exhaustive Martinov's film is, I suspect this was an aspect which was covered, but merely ended up on a cutting room floor to keep the proceedings as sprightly as they are.


Pecking Order enjoys its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2017