Late-night fight clubs, forbidden drag racing, and betting on various animal fights, documentarian Patrick Gramm takes us deep into the underground world of pigeon racing. OK, maybe the film, The Pigeon People, isn’t as seedy or dangerous as Fight Club, but it’s a sport made for people who love pigeons.
The first person we’re introduced to is veteran pigeon racer Bob French. Each year, Bob and his club prepare to compete against other clubs in the Grand Canyon Classic—a 350-mile pigeon race from Utah to Arizona that crosses the Grand Canyon. A race so grueling that many pigeons don’t make it. The canyon is so vast that weaker pigeons wind up resting in the canyon and become prey to predators at the bottom.
OK, maybe I’m hyping the sport up as more dangerous than it is. The Pigeon People is, for the most part, a documentary about pigeon racing and the people who have dedicated themselves to the sport. Along with French, Gramm interviews members of French’s club, including Bob Bogardus Sr., Michael French, Rick Fernandez, Bob Bogardus Jr., and Jorge Arechiga.
The documentary is split into three parts. The first part is an explanation of the sport itself. Pigeon Racing is slowly becoming a dying art. The interest in the sport has been waning over the years, and the costs have skyrocketed as of late. Breeding for racing, proper diet, clean and safe living conditions, and race training expense-wise all add up in the end. The upside is that the wives of these racers always have their husbands at home attending to the pigeons, and nary an eye will wander.
Then, The Pigeon People delves into the lives of people. Each club is a community in every sense of the word—French likes to hold occasional BBQs, especially on race days. Members light up when new recruits join the club. They are more than willing to share their secrets of success, though no two members do exactly the same things. What’s important is that friendships are made, and good sportsmanship is passed on to the next generation.
“…a documentary about pigeon racing and the people who have dedicated themselves to the sport.”
Lastly, there’s the race. Much of the film’s second half is dedicated to preparing for the Grand Canyon Classic. We get into the details of selecting and training the pigeons competing in the race. Then it gets real technical in how the pigeons are electronically tagged and all the rules that must be followed from start to finish. There’s no doubt this is a dangerous race…for the pigeons. Bob French is the reigning champion of the race and plans to keep it that way.
The Pigeon People reminds me of the Chris Guest mockumentary, Best in Show…but without the ironic comedy. It’s a film featuring pigeon people who are your normal average Americans. They dedicate themselves yearly to that one great event in the Grand Canyon Classic—the granddaddy of pigeon racing.
The heart of The Pigeon People is the interviews. Everyone has a story to tell—a good, ole American story. Along with Bob French, we learn each competitor came to the sport for various reasons, and all extol how pigeon racing has made them better people.
This is a sports documentary. Most of the exciting race footage comes in the releasing of the pigeons on the other side of the Grand Canyon and their return to Bob’s house while a BBQ is going on. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of footage of the actual race following the pigeons. I get it. The cinematic technology is just not there…even with drones.
I’ve heard stories of homing pigeons used during various wars but never of pigeon racing. Documentarian Patrick Gramm manages to weave a fascinating tale. Look, we’re not saving the world here. Whether you see it is a matter of taste. I’m always up to learn something new about the people who make this country great, and The Pigeon People succeeds on all accounts.
For screening information, visit The Pigeon People official website.
"…always up to learn something new about the people who make this country great..."