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#HotDocs22 Review: Million Dollar Pigeons

April 30, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Who knew racing pigeons was such a lucrative sport? Director Gavin Fitzgerald’s documentary Million Dollar Pigeons takes us into the increasingly competitive world of pigeon racing, from the people who breed them to the millionaires who shell out top dollar to buy them, with birds now going for upwards of two million dollars.

As a quirky human interest doc about an unconventional sporting competition, Million Dollar Pigeons is not as crazy as the satirical Best in Show, though sure to draw those comparisons with its eccentric and colourful cast of characters. The film follows a variety of pigeon “fanciers,” as they like to be called, as they prepare for the Million Dollar Race in South Africa, the most prestigious event in pigeon racing (though we learn that a competition in Thailand that only allows female trainers around the birds is quickly rising in prominence for a variety of reasons, including scandal).

Among the “fanciers” is John O’Brien, a working class delivery driver in Ireland with a couple of kids, who keeps pigeons in his backyard. He dreams of winning the Million Dollar Race, which has a thousand dollar entry fee but over a million in prize money to be won, with the support of the locals in his town. If the film at times feels like it doesn’t quite spend enough time with any of its subjects to fully develop them, O’Brien has the most screen time and the closest thing to an arc, emerging as a sort of underdog who ultimately gets the last laugh in the film.

The welfare of the birds is another area where Fitzgerald’s film could have gone a little deeper, with some alleging the sport amounts to animal abuse. But Million Dollar Pigeons ultimately works as an entertaining and quick-moving introduction to the surprisingly cutthroat world of pigeon racing, that often leaves our mouths agape at how seriously the subjects take this sport and how much they are willing to spend on it.

Screenings:

Friday, April 29th – 8:30 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre

Tuesday, May 3rd – 10:45 AM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Saturday, May 7th – 8:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on April 30th at 9:00 AM.

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