Million Dollar Pigeons – Film Review
by Frank L.
Directed by Gavin Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald, who has made award-winning documentaries about Conor McGregor and Liam Gallagher, turns his attention to the world of pigeon racing, a sport which does not have a celebrity or a familiar face associated with it. However, pigeon racing has been a sport for hundreds of years. In Ireland, its enthusiasts are everyday individuals who indulge their obsession with the sport as a hobby to enliven their lives. Fitzgerald takes as his example of such an individual one John O’Brien, a man in his thirties, married, with a couple of kids, who lives in Clondalkin and who also is the owner of sixty pigeons. In one sense he is atypical of this world, as the other pigeon fanciers appear to be in the main a good deal older. However, he was an inspired choice by Fitzgerald as O’Brien is a most engaging character. His everyday occupation is that of a delivery man.
O’Brien introduces us to the mundanity of the routine of owning pigeons but also to the international aspect of pigeon racing. In particular, the South African million race which is or maybe was the international grand prix of pigeon racing. It costs about 1,000 euros to enter a bird in the race and O’Brien and his fellow pigeon fanciers enter four birds. This is substantial money for anyone including a delivery man. Surprisingly, Belgium seems to be a well-established hub with major auctions of birds while Thailand seems to be an up-and-coming country, with Chinese buyers influential. It is this international aspect of the sport which has led to a pigeon costing a million dollars at auction. This weight of money has led to ancillary activities and there is even a vet based in Belgium whose practice specialises in the treatment of pigeons. It is inevitable with such large sums of money sloshing around that dishonest behaviour will enter the fray. John O’Brien and his mates are minnows in this world and therefore vulnerable.
However, while dishonesty raises its ugly presence as regards the South African race there are other races. For example, there is one in Thailand which challenges the supremacy of the South African race. While all this is happening, our engaging hero John O’Brien is having to make adjustments to his own participation in pigeon fancying as his domestic circumstances alter. Notwithstanding these challenges, he retains his generosity of spirit and optimistic outlook in his new more straitened circumstances.
Fitzgerald has created a documentary which gives an insight into the little-discussed world of pigeon racing. It would perhaps be a better documentary if there had been more information given as to how pigeon racing works in general and international racing in particular. With that reservation, Fitzgerald has introduced the viewer to a little-known world. He has done so with humour and passion. He also introduced John O’Brien to a wider world, who is a great ambassador for the sport he loves. This is a quirky story and it is uplifting to see the enthusiasm and commitment that O’Brien and his fellow pigeon fanciers show.
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