Publication: Blasting News, 30th September 2017
This affable documentary of poultry pageantry comes to UK cinemas from 29 September.
#New Zealand director #Slavko Martinov came across a stall selling premium chicken feed in Melbourne, and from there a story was born. As he discovered each year, chicken, bantams, pigeon and assorted other bird enthusiasts gather at a national convention in Oamaru, New Zealandto decide whose creatures are the best looking of all. The birds are defined by their apparent health, size, and qualities such as the arrangement of feathers or the lengths of beaks and talons.
Throughout the year, members gather at their local clubs to discuss their poultry and ways to improve their chances at local and regional competitions, with “#Pecking Order” focusing on the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club.
This is all a marked change from Slavko Martinov‘s previous work “Propaganda,” a fake propaganda film made as if it was produced by the North Korean government.
I spoke with Martinov ahead of the UK release of “Pecking Order,” after it impressed audiences at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Influences towards ‘Pecking Order’ approach.
Christopher Marchant (CM) – Which documentaries and documentarians influenced your approach to Pecking Order?
Slavko Martinov (SM) -There’s the Best In Show mockumentary [a 2001 mockumentary about dog pedigree obsessives], that’s clear as day, but I first started off looking into anthro-zoology, human-animal relations. There are a lot of films exploring that zeitgeist, such as Grizzly Man and Blackfish.
Things progressed and the politics started unfolding in the film.
You just be present and do your own thing really. I never really think in terms of someone else’s work while I’m doing it. I’ve heard comparisons to [2008 rockumentary] “Anvil,” but actually the first time I saw that was last night.
CM – A connection between “Propaganda” and “Pecking Order” is blurring the line between documentary and mockumentary. Is this something you like to pursue in your work?
SM – Whether you like it or not the link to “Best In Show” is there. It was my initial thought when I came across poultry pageantry. It was a case of being very careful you didn’t fall into the trap of imitating a mockumentary tone.
Saying that in both “Propaganda” and “Pecking Order” I enjoyed melding genres. The thing about “Best In Show” is as much as you’re aware of it and try to avoid it there absolutely is part of me that likes to tamper with that line. I played around with that, and hope I got on the right side of it. Sometimes I’d step over it, and we’d have an outside editor pop in once in a while just to keep things in check.
CM – For all the politics and drama in “Pecking Order,” it’s still quite a diversion from your previous work Propaganda. How did you get from documentary to the next?
SM – “Propaganda” is more where my instincts lie. I wouldn’t have pursued “Pecking Order” as a subject, it was just one of those happy accidents when you’re filming something else. I met a woman in Melbourne selling chicken feed at a fair while we were filming and I was just curious enough to ask them who bought the chicken feed. When they said it was the top breeders on the national show circuit I just knew it had potential, one of the things you just couldn’t not try to capture.
‘Pecking Order’ details an obscure hobby with both humour and sobriety
CM– What future projects are you working on?
SM– A lot on my plate, like any documentary maker as poor as shit, struggling away. I’ve a concept the film commission is willing to invest in, and I’ve got two in development I want to film next year.
Underpinning them all is this question of the power of story, and how susceptible we are to being influenced by a story. In particular, there is a focus on a Japanese sub-culture, which I can’t say any more about currently. The other one is to do with animals. I’ve tried to avoid that subject like the plague, and then someone’s come about it in an interesting way.
CM– Any memorable moments working on “Pecking Order?”
SM– Sound recordist Tim Brott is well known for having a spectacular threshold, being able to record anything. We tried to warn him about the sound of chickens screaming and screeching by their thousands at the national show. On the second day of filming, he sat down with this look on his face, and says ‘I just can’t go back out there’. He was genuinely broken, the first time in his career. I must admit the rest of us found this hilarious.
At the end of the film, the former club president David Baine is on a rant about puppets on a string, who’s controlling them. Then all of a sudden his wife’s car pulls up, and he slinks down in his chair, whispering ‘oh no, there’s trouble’.
Another favorite is Doug eating KFC at the pageant after-party. People can’t believe that wasn’t a set-up. A golden rule is to never touch a cameraman unless it’s an emergency, but when I saw Doug coming in with his bucket of chicken I just had to whisper in his ear and bring his attention to it.
People are fairly good about not being too sensitive
CM– Was it ever a fine line between documenting these people and not placing them in a position of mockery or derision?
It was a difficult line to tread many times. Moments like Doug and the KFC you have to think about in the edit. People were quite defensive about this, but it never occurred to us to ridicule. Sometimes things like that happen unintentionally, you don’t intend for it to be mocking but that’s just life. With issues like this, I would just talk to them, show them the footage. I didn’t want them to feel bad at all, I have a great fondness for them. Only on a couple of occasions did people feel at all sensitive about something.
CM– What’s been the overall response of the Christchurch club to the documentary?
SM– They love it, and were all there at the premiere. I tried to relieve their tensions and explain that hopefully, it’ll be great fun though really weird seeing yourself up on screen. They’re New Zealand famous which they’ve found really surreal but it’s boosted their membership and a there’s been a record turnout for the pageantry shows.
“Pecking Order” has a UK release from the 29th September
Read the review of Pecking Order here