an NFSA website

Rare Chicken Rescue (2008)


Queensland chicken breeder Mark Tully struggles with depression and anxiety but his love of chickens has given him back his life. Rare Chicken Rescue is an observational documentary that follows Mark on his mission to save rare breeds of chicken before they become extinct. His search covers almost 10,000 kilometres, and five Australian states, as he tracks down rare heritage breeds.

Throughout the journey Mark meets up with a dying breed of country Australia men and women who, like Mark, love their chooks. On the road Mark reveals how depression almost ruined his life. Told through interviews with Mark, his parents, and the people he meets, the documentary takes an affectionate look at a shared passion that is helping Mark’s recovery.

Curator’s notes

Rare Chicken Rescue tells one person’s story but explores many issues, and it does it with style and humour. The main character, Mark Tully, has had a long battle with depression but has been saved by the chickens and turkeys he has loved since childhood. ’The birds saved me and made me get out’, Mark says, describing how he had to go out of the house to feed them. ’Suddenly you are the most important person in the world!’, he adds, as the birds crowd around him lifting his spirits. Now Mark’s mission in life is to save rare breeds from extinction (see clip one).

Mark’s journey to locate and save rare chickens is the device the filmmakers use to introduce us to a dying breed of Australian – the poultry fancier – and the special connections among these country characters. Like the amazing array of rare chickens, each of the people Mark meets is colourful in his or her own way. The film features no narration; while on the road Mark describes his personal battle with depression and anxiety and how his connection with the birds has helped him (see clip two).

Writer, director and cinematographer Randall Wood chooses a style reminiscent of Mark Lewis’s Cane Toads – An Unnatural History (1987), another Film Australia Production. Like Cane Toads interviews are conducted in studio and interviewees look straight down the barrel of the camera. These interviews are intercut with observational sequences of Mark at home and on the road, stylised images of surreal looking chickens and amazingly constructed graphics. All the visuals are accompanied by music that underscores both the action and emotion and gives the film a light-hearted touch.

The result is an enjoyable film full of humour, which, nevertheless, has some dark undertones. Despite embarking on his ’chicken chase’, Mark is still struggling with his depression and some of the people he visits are leading what appear to be poor, isolated and relatively lonely rural lives.

Rare Chicken Rescue is one of those Australian documentaries which explores serious issues such as depression, and the consequences of the rapid commercialisation of animals, while engaging the audience through style, humour and lovable characters. This can risk belittling the subject or laughing at the people involved but this documentary treads carefully and achieves a great balance.

Rare Chicken Rescue was broadcast on ABC1 on 6 May 2009. It won Best Documentary at the 2008 Dendy Awards, Best Short Documentary at the 2008 Film Critics’ Circle of Australia Awards and the 2008 AFI Award for Best Sound in a Documentary (Brett Aplin, Greg Docwra, John Willsteed and David White). It also received AFI nominations for: Best Documentary (Vickie Gest, Randall Wood) and Best Direction (Randall Wood), Cinematography (Randall Wood) and Editing (Scott Walton) in a Documentary.