An entertaining quirkumentary that benefits from strong characters that it uses well
The world of pigeon racing has been under threat recently due to the spread of bird flu but before and during this, Morgan Matthews' film looks at the business it has become. Conversely the sport of pigeon racing is failing to bring in new blood but yet also boosted by the professional breeders and trainers. To help bolster the sport, the organising bodies have put in place international races, the most famous of which is the $1000000 race, this year to be held in South Africa.
I have previously said that Morgan Matthews is trying to fill the gap left by Louis Theroux in the "quirkumentary" genre of documentaries but really his is a very different approach. Where Theroux gets involved and questions what he experiences, Matthews tends to just hang back and witness the quirky worlds that he gets access to. The difference between this approach is that Theroux can often bring out the interest in the subject by himself whereas, by hanging back, Matthews relies much more on his characters to do the work. In some of his films this has been a problem but in million Dollar Pigeon, it works thanks to the characters and the curio value of the big money pigeon racing.
The world itself is very interesting and it was weird to see such an industry built up around it. I had obviously heard that bird shows were under threat on the news during the bird flu panic, but it meant more to put faces and names to this story. The characters are strong here to and Matthews and editor Chanan do well to use the running time on the strongest of them. This is the professional breeder and trainer who has earned a fortune and invested a fortune. He is a larger than life character with a colourful background but the type of person it is easy to listen to. He takes the lion's share of the film and it is better for it. The up and coming breeder is interesting but not as strong as the other guy. The older man makes for a strong heart to the film even if he is much more of a hobby in the racing world, but his relationship with his wife makes him touching part even if he is a side issue. The slightly crazy guy who throws in an occasional comment is well suited to this as he has comic value if not a lot more than that.
An interesting film then that stands out as one of the stronger of Matthews' recent BBC films. My usual problem over his "point" wasn't really here because his characters and entry into the world of racing made it a strong and engaging "quirkumentary".
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