The Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club is a group of like-minded chicken fanciers who meet on the second Monday of every month to arrange their business, and that business is effectively competing in poultry beauty contests - well, the members don't, but the birds they breed do. This is highly competitive, and they take it a lot more seriously than outsiders might expect, but the issue is that the club is made up of an increasingly ageing membership with very few younger participants wishing to join. With their one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary in a couple of years' time approaching, they really need to sort themselves out - but an unavoidable crisis is just around the corner...
Everyone loves an eccentric, or rather it might be more accurate to observe everyone loves a documentary about an eccentric where they can be kept at arm's length and not interacted with, and this New Zealand documentary delivered its fair share of the idiosyncratic for the audience to be amused by. The focus was on those chickens (the pigeon fanciers barely merited a mention, seemingly because even the poultry fanciers found them too way out there), which early on we hear a seasoned breeder admit is not the best hobby to have if you want a happy marriage, and another admits it's the reason he has been a bachelor for all his adult life - he simply prefers the company of his feathered friends.
We see so many chickens that you will have either one of two reactions: you start to think, wait a minute, these people are crazy, all these breeds of birds look the same so how can they possibly judge which is a more beautiful example than the other. Alternatively, you start to think, wait a minute, these people have a point, I never considered it before but that is one good-looking chicken, by which time the mania for the pastime may have got into you head and started messing with your mind. There were, if you happened to feel objective on the issue, certainly a lot of handsome creatures being placed in competition, that was if you were prepared to take the contestants' passions into account.
If you were not and emerged from this thinking, well, I'm sure they will taste better than they look, then you could probably count yourself out of being an animal lover, but even if you were not averse to a boiled egg for your breakfast, an egg sandwich for lunch or a Spanish omelette or soufflé for dinner (not all on the same day, of course - think of your cholesterol) you may find yourself taking a guardedly grateful interest in where the hen fruit came from (although maybe not that specifically, for the sake of your appetite). Pet chickens - or chooks, as these Kiwis call them - are not unheard of, and you could just about imagine someone forming an affectionate attachment to them; actually, you did not need to imagine, they were here populating this film, but there was a problem, as mentioned.
Which was, in the Christchurch club at least, some very ugly infighting in contrast to the shiny, attractive plumage on their birds. Director Slavko Martinov, whose only previous work had been a spoof North Korean propaganda film that had him investigated by the powers that be, must have been delighted when such friction became apparent and he was now not merely making a "nowt queer as folk" piece of fluff. As the old guard fell victim to squabbling among themselves, or rather sniping behind each other's backs on this evidence, the tone became rather abrasive, which may have created tension but if you wanted the chicken obsessives to set their differences aside and embrace their shared love of poultry then you would find it, well, not upsetting, but lightly aggravating. When Pecking Order concentrated on the matter in hand, which was often an actual chicken in an actual hand, it contained an offbeat appreciation of obsession Errol Morris could not have done better. Music by Tom McLeod.