Get a small group of people together with a common interest, it’s going to get competitive. Give it a little time, it’ll get political and weird, too. Christopher Guest’s Best In Show is the epitome of competitive subculture movies, barking up the tree of conformation dog shows. But if you thought dog shows were weird, you haven’t lived till you’ve seen a chicken pageant. While Best in Show is a mockumentary, Pecking Order is the real thing. Watching the chicken breeders of Christchurch, New Zealand strut, preen and scheme against one another is giddily surreal, enough to make you cluck and crow.
Directed by Slavko Martinov, Pecking Order is making its world premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto on Saturday, April 29th. The Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club has existed for 148 years; these kiwi breeders have been at it a long time. The Club’s a great resource of tips and tricks for its members, but there’s always been a strict hierarchy. The hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary is just around the corner, and things are starting to crack under the shaky wing of elderly president Doug Bain. A stalwart of the “pay your dues” school, Doug has run afoul of a younger generation of breeders, people who worry their sport is going the way of the dodo.
All this makes for some pretty entertaining trouble in the henhouse. While competitors from cocky kids to grizzled codgers gear up for the upcoming show season, the main event is Doug’s game of chicken with the other big local breeders. Throw in a flock of New Zealand accents so thick they have to be subtitled, and some fascinating lore on poultry husbandry, and Pecking Order‘s an eccentric documentary well worth crossing the road for. Just don’t ask me who came first.
Pecking Order makes its cracking debut at Hot Docs with several dates. For details see here.