For those who clicked on this review expecting something to the extent of a peek at a perverted Claymation video or a battle between uptight office interns, I have no doubts that we’ll probably see those soon enough, but that’s not what you’ll find here. Here, the focus is exclusively on cocks…uh, roosters and the sport of rooster fighting.
One type of a good documentary is one that’ll take you into places you’ve never seen before and are not likely to under your own power. “Cockfight” is one of those as Tiller Russell and Loren Mendell head into the world of rooster fighting through the eyes of three people. There’s Manuel Costa, a 73-year old who has such a passion for the sport because it is a major part of his culture and who he is and he refuses to give it up. He represents the California side of things in regards to the sport and is also president of the Association for the Preservation of Game Fowl. Clara Godfrey is the Arizona side where cockfighting reaches its end by a state referendum banning the sport. Larry Cook participates in the sport in Mexico and loves it, evidenced by the many roosters he raises and brings to battle at a cockfighting arena.
Cockfighting is one of those sports that inevitably raises the ire of animal rights groups and the humane society, but there are two instances in here that provide interesting points. A little bit after the beginning, Manuel puts one rooster down on the ground and it dukes it out with another rooster for a minute or so and then he picks that rooster up saying, “I didn’t force them to duke it out.” A journalist for the Phoenix New Times, David Holthouse brings forth something else. There was one time when two sides, those being the people involved in cockfighting and the Citizens Against Cockfighting, went to two separate events one evening. The cockfighters and spectators went to a fundraising event that cost $5 to get in. Across town at the Ritz-Carlton, the “Citizens” got together at an event called “The Awakening of Arizona” and what were they serving at that black-tie event?? Chicken. Ironic, huh?
Holthouse goes on to contrast battling roosters with what happens to factory-farm chickens and believes that factory-farming is far more brutal than what roosters face. After the bird is hatched, a chicken gets its beak severed so it doesn’t peck at the other birds. It’s going to be pumped full of growth hormones so its feathers come off and then they are crammed into fattening pens and then…well, it gets worse from there. Meanwhile, a rooster gets the best care, the best food, and gets space in a barnyard until it’s time to duke it out. Many roosters will die, but the ones that survive 7-8 fights get to live out the rest of its natural life span as a stud as it has proven itself quite well.
Many cockfights are featured here and one instance is gruesome, but ultimately it is quite an educational experience and certainly one that I won’t get involved in. I’ll just leave it at the saying, “To each his own,” because that’s basically what it is. It is most certainly an acquired interest and just doesn’t perk up out of the blue.
There is one slightly suspenseful bit, besides watching the roosters square off against each other like corporate hotheads, where Manuel tries to convince what I assume to be one of the heads of the cockfighting event that he is at to let the filmmakers in to film, promising that he won’t be indicted for anything.
Mendell and Russell don’t take sides on the issue of cockfighting and keep both pairs of eyes open, absorbing everything about the sport and what it means to the people involved. They have created a firmly satisfying work of a controversial sport that keeps you thinking throughout the film and long after it is over.