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Bird’s eye view of chicken breeders

Shari McCullough in Chicken People (YouTube)

Chicken People is a documentary that follows the ups and downs of three breeders on the road to the 2015 Ohio National Poultry Show. It’s a charming and often moving character study.

Although its subjects are drawn from diverse walks of life, their connections with their birds are a gateway into their own lives, and the very human tragedies and triumphs that underpin them.

Our three chicken people are race engineer Brian Knox from New Hampshire, singer and theatre performer Brian Caraker from Missouri, and homemaker Shari McCullough from Indiana. Their love for and dedication to their birds is astonishing, and quickly works to draw the viewer into their sincere but bizarre culture of constantly breeding and annually showing birds.

Each figure is fascinating in their own way.

Brian Knox is a self-confessed breed-aholic, having bred and hatched over 30,000 chicks in a complex breeding program that, although also recorded on paper, is etched into his brain. Although he is currently focused on an unusual breed, a striking black and white bird called a Wyandotte, he says that finally attaining the perfect bird would mean that he would find another breed to rescue.

Brian speaks about a past relationship with a fellow chicken fanatic, but says his chicken-centric lifestyle is not conducive to having a girlfriend. His commitment to his birds is inspiring, although the loneliness it entails is heart-breaking.

Brian Caraker’s story is more multifaceted, but no less compelling. Bullied as a child, his chickens became his "oasis". While the film mines some drama from Brian’s tenuous job security, the most moving thing about Brian is the way he discusses his chickens. He considers raising his chickens a "spiritual experience", and his passion is contagious.

Finally, we meet Shari McCullough, who found purpose in her chickens after enduring years as an alcoholic. Now teetotal, Shari relishes the hours she spends caring for her large brood, while also juggling the responsibilities of caring for her large family.

Each of these figures is extremely watchable and makes for good company. Their successes and failures become yours too, as is the case in the best sports films (which I imagine competitive chicken showing is to its subjects).

Reviewed by Callum Ryan, ACOFB

Chicken People Starring: Brian Knox, Brian Caraker, Shari McCullough. Directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes. 83 minutes. Rated PG (Mild coarse language).

FULL REVIEW

Chicken People (ACOFB)

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