10 May 2017

Counting their chickens: Pecking Order

From Nine To Noon, 11:27 am on 10 May 2017

A group of Canterbury poultry enthusiasts are stars of a new chick flick, which is hitting cinemas next week.

At almost 150, the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club is the oldest club of its kind in the country.

Pecking Order charts the lead up to the National Show, featuring some fine birds and a cast of Cantabrian 'chick fanciers'- the youngest is 14, the oldest has been competing for 70 years.

The film had its New Zealand premiere in Christchurch on Tuesday, with many of the cast in the audience.

Mark Lilley, the club's current president told Kathryn Ryan he and his son were on their way to the showing when they spied their photo on the back of a bus.

“Here we are, the Pecking Order sign on the back of a bus and here’s Rhys and I here in this car looking at it… it was a real funny time for us and we had a good laugh there for, you know, a couple of minutes.”

While he was initially nervous, Lilley says he enjoyed the film and felt everyone was accurately portrayed.

“I was happy with it but it took me probably three-quarters of the movie before I could actually relax and actually sit there and watch it.”

Lilley’s says his interest in birds began when his daughters were young, as they didn’t like other animals.

They started with just a few birds but gradually got more and began entering them in shows.

“Suddenly there’s a challenge to actually breed better ones, and all that, and you just suddenly get hooked.

“You’re trying to get that perfect bird. Can you breed a perfect bird? Well I don’t think so but some of us are slow learners, but we’ll get there. We’re having fun.”

The man behind the camera, Christchurch-based filmmaker Slavko Martinov says he discovered by chance that there was a national circuit for chicken breeders, and was completely fascinated by the notion.

But making the film wasn’t so straightforward, he says.

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Photo: Supplied

“It wasn’t easy, in the sense that everyone was really lovely, and they’re all wonderful people, but they’re also so dry and so down to earth and love playing this game of making out that things aren’t that important or they aren’t very competitive.”

But the fact that people had been involved in the club for decades and were determined to breed the perfect bird, indicated they were quite competitive, he says.

Martinov says the film captures a rift which exists in the club between the poultry and the pigeon goers, but the cause of the tension remains a mystery.

“It’s true of all societies and clubs and organisations isn’t it, there’s misunderstandings and seeing people as different from the other.”

One of the stand out club members was 16-year-old Sarah Bunton, who Martinov describes as a chicken whisperer.

“She could take any bird, put it on its back and just start rubbing its cheek or under its eye and it will just fall dead silent into her lap… she’s just got that special touch.”

Lilley says birds are very smart and know when they’re competing in a show.

“Once they get in that hall for the show it’s like a bunch of teenagers out on the street and they’re all puffing out their chests saying ‘I’m the best, I’m the best’.”

While there have been scandals of birds disappearing from shows overseas at times, Lilley says in New Zealand 9 times out of 10 it’s been an accident.

“Most of it is pretty innocent.”

Pecking Order goes on release at 45 cinemas across the country from Thursday 18 May.