Have you ever heard a chicken being favorably compared to Paris Hilton?
Or being described as a warrior?
Or being analyzed for its behavior in its social cliques? Its cliques of, you know, other chickens?
Well, you will. And you will because you will watch CMT’s documentary Chicken People, a deeply engaging and human exploration of the surprisingly enormous world of prize chicken breeders. And when it’s all over, you will understand why the Ohio National Poultry Show is considered the Westminster of Chickens, and why the subjects of this film care so deeply about the competition that they dedicate enormous portions of their lives to cultivating the perfect fowl.
Critical reception has been strong since Chicken People, directed by Nicole Lucas Haimes, debuted at SXSW earlier this year before going on to screen at nearly a dozen other festivals, including Nashville, Seattle and Atlantic. Reviewers have responded favorably to the documentary’s success in distilling meaning from the sprawling, intricate and exacting world of competitive chicken breeding.
“As enthusiastic as [the other main characters] are, however, their narratives are overshadowed by the poignant story of Shari McCollough, a homemaker and mother of five (children, not chickens) from Crawford, Ind., who credits poultry breeding and competition with helping her overcome depression and alcoholism,” writes Variety’s Joe Leydon. “When she says, late in the documentary, ‘Chickens make me brave — they make me face fears head-on in life,’ her matter-of-fact sincerity carries an unexpectedly potent emotional wallop. Just as important, it encourages a viewer to consider just how common her attitude is among the other breeders.”
It is, indeed, the people, rather than the chickens, that makes Chicken People a must-see. The New York Times’ Helen T. Verongos writes, “…these chicken people, with deep connections to their birds, make for a fun and at times astonishing film.”
Chicken People, which debuts at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23 (Thanksgiving Eve), is the fifth entry in CMT’s successful push into the documentary space. It follows Urban Cowboy: The Rise and Fall of Gilley’s, Morgan Spurlock Presents Freedom! The Movie, Johnny Cash: American Rebel, and The Bandit, which collectively hauled in more than 25 million viewers. The net recently announced that a sixth, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: a film about Lynyrd Skynyrd will debut some time in 2017.
CMT, like other Viacom networks, has intensified its focus on original content lately, with Still the King, which stars Billy Ray Cyrus as a drunken country music has-been, reaching more than 20 million viewers. The net is also set to debut Nashville, which CMT picked up from ABC, on Jan. 5.
Don’t want to wait until Nov. 23 to watch Chicken People? You can download it now on iTunes: