In the words of Brian Glassey, “it’s not easy, you know, being a chook fancier.” We do know! But Slavko Martinov’s Pecking Order shows the rich rewards that come from hard work and investment in a shared cause. At the same time we get a colourful depiction of dedicated, passionate bird lovers in a setting that is classically New Zealand.
Topflite owes its existence to bird clubs like the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club. After so many years of involvement in bird shows, it was a thrill to see the action on the big screen.
In peak exhibiting condition these birds are truly beautiful, and they are expertly captured by Martinov’s team. The distinctive plumage of the Plymouth Rock, the Leghorn’s dapper silhouette, the Chinese silkie’s bouffant hair-do: it’s all made even more impressive by the tireless dedication we see in the background.
In one of many lighthearted moments, member Brett Hawker likens chicken rearing to alcoholism, saying “it’s just as hard on the family.” It is a commitment indeed: diets of hazelnuts, nightly grooming, early morning feeding rituals, baths, and hours of travel — all to pursue that elusive title of ‘Best Bird in Show’.
The film is about people as much as it’s about chickens. This is a group of people who need each other to pursue their common interest. And yet there are still generational tensions about the future of the 150 year old club. Decorum is always maintained however, be it in the face of tense competition or when feathers are ruffled at a leadership level.
Many viewers begin the film laughing at the eccentrics on screen, and this is where the film has drawn some criticism. But it would be a hard-hearted person who left the theatre without a sense of admiration for the depth of knowledge and intense dedication it takes to breed birds of this quality. Member Mark Lilley says, “Some people would say it’s only a chook…but that’s us. That’s our pinnacle.”
While perhaps unflattering at times, the film is ultimately an endearing portrait of the bird clubs and fanciers we know and love. It forms a timely reminder of the collective history such clubs preserve and the value they have to their members. Which is why we think Slavko Martinov’s Pecking Order is, well… impeccable.
See peckingordermovie.com for details of screening locations around the country. Be quick! This is one to appreciate on the big screen in a cinema full of people.