Jim Jenner Interview - British Homing World - May 2006
Jim Jenner Interview in British Homing World May 12, 2006
Jim Jenner is an American born film writer/director who first worked in
media as a journalist for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, where
he later joined CBS television news. At 20 he was a radio reporter and, at
21 had become the youngest reporter ever to appear on the CBS evening news,
covering stories during the civil war in East Pakistan. Following a stint as
a news producer based in New York he left CBS to start his own film company,
PACCOM, which is celebrating it¹s 30th year in business this year.
A life-long pigeon fancier Jim first came to the notice of the sport in 1990
when he released MARATHON IN THE SKY a documentary about pigeon racing
narrated by the late American TV star Michael Landon.
It IS fair to say it caused a sensation in the sport for the quality of the
work and Jim's beautiful description of the racing hobby.
Jim went on to create an 11-part documentary on pigeons entitled
OLDEST FEATHERED FRIEND, which won several top film festival first prizes.
His latest pigeon film SECRETS OF CHAMPIONS is a documentary series detailing the
inside story of some of Europe's longest-running champion trainers. It
contains several unique sections explaining and illustrating the secret of
"the throat", a key secret of these top fanciers.
A dedicated pigeon fancier and a wonderful spokesman for the sport Jim has
been called "the pigeon world's greatest story teller". Jim lives in the
Rocky Mountains of Montana where he bases his production company.
Q: We loved reading the transcript of your speech delivered at the
prestigious House of Commons dinner in November and felt it gave our sport a
much needed shot in the arm. Was that the first year you had attended and
what are your lasting memories of the evening?
A: I first attended in 2004 and I was deeply impressed with the caliber of
the attendees and the way in which the organizers had helped to elevate the
image of homing pigeons.
Q: You've been in marketing and media for most of your life. From a
marketing standpoint what's your take on the image of our sport?
A: Well, in the English speaking world our brand name, "pigeons" is in very
deep trouble. We have to take a step back and think about this. The pest
control industry successfully created the false image of pigeons as disease
carrying, feathered rodents. And our hobby has stood by while the problem
of feral pigeons has almost destroyed the reputation of our birds in the
public's mind. Looking long term, I think we would be wise to expand the
use of the term "rock dove" to redefine our bird's ancient domestic origins
and retell our story again. I don't mean we never talk about our pigeons,
but we need to reframe the argument.
Q: You say the hobby stood by regarding feral pigeons. What do you mean?
A: For 50 years we thought we could simply say, "Oh no, ours are pedigreed
birds, they are thoroughbreds, these are different than the birds in the
city". It didn't work. If people learn to hate feral pigeons, they don't
care how different your racing pigeons are. We provided no help to control
the ferals and that is one of the greatest underlying problems we deal with
Q: Aren't most racing men going to think you are crazy?
A: Sure, but I know the racing fraternity very well. It's time for them to
stop being so arrogant and oblivious to what's happening around them. I'll
give you a chilling example from here in the U.S. last year. A single
pigeon man in Chicago created a mess with his neighbors. The neighbors went
to their Alderman and the Alderman eventually got the Chicago City Council
to vote 48 to 0 to totally ban the keeping of racing pigeons in the third
largest city in the United States. Anyone who understands politics can see
that a vote that lopsided means pigeons are despised by a lot of public
Q: What kind of impact will that have within the racing sport?
A: Fear is a powerful motivator. We are now terrified that we'll even be
able to race again. Bird Flu, Chicago, all of it starts to make it obvious
to the average fancier that we are going to either fight back or die as a
hobby. That fear may actually translate into people calling for, and paying
Q: Are the national pigeon organizations capable of dealing with these
A: Let's remember that from an organizational standpoint, our hobby is not
your typical "top down" organization,. By "top down" I mean an
organization that has very strong overall central control, say a national
sports body that is empowered to select and train Olympic athletes. We are
the opposite. We¹re a ³bottom up² organization. The nature of our sport is
for clubs and federations to pretty much control their own destiny with only
limited involvement by the national body. So, unlike most sport
organizations, we have a weak hierarchy. That ultimately makes it hard for
us to mount effective national and international efforts. In the U.S. it's
even worse, there are two competing national racing organizations who
despise each other. And globally there is virtually no single voice for
pigeon keeping. Even though there is a multi-million dollar trade in
racing birds there is virtually no coordinated cultural or scientific effort
out there. It's all about the blood-stock, period.
Q: But could a stronger national body do more?
A: Well, first you have to have brave leadership. And there is one vital
thing missing, money.
Q: OK, if you had a couple of million pounds to spend around the world what
would you do.
A: In any war the first thing you need is Allies, at least that's what I
learned in school before this present administration moved into Washington.
Anyway, we have many, many potential allies that we don't do anything with.
Q: Like who?
A: Like science teachers. Like Reuters. Like bird watchers. Like zoos.
Like military veterans. Like Olympic athletes. Like the greeting card
Q: These are allies?
A: These are all huge groups of people or powerful business interests that
have a significant connection to our birds. Organized properly a public
affairs program could win many of them over and begin to reverse the
negative image of pigeons.
Q: Why would they listen to us?
A: Here's an important fact. We OWN the domestic pigeon as a cause, as a
symbol. Not legally, but it is OUR hobby and we, and our ancient ancestors,
domesticated pigeons. No one else can pretend to speak for this species
because we created it. Fancy pigeons, we bred them. Homing pigeons, we
developed them. That's what I mean by we own the brand. We just aren't
seeing it that way.
Q: How can you say we "own" pigeons as a brand?
A: In the same way the National Owl Trust owns owls. If a reporter wants
to do a story about owls who do you think they make sure to check with to
see if they have their facts right? If a government official wants to get
scientific information, or write legislation, about owls, who do you think
they check with?
Q: So you mean we should try to become the voice for pigeons?
A: We already are, we're just not saying much. And obviously you need a
strategy before you raise your voice, but the main thing is to create a
coordinated, global effort to fight anti-pigeon legislation, sponsor
pro-pigeon scientific study and to remind people of the historic and current
benefits of pigeon keeping for people of all ages.
Q: How do you know these groups can be turned into allies?
A: All you have to do is look at the wonderful results from the House of
Commons dinner to know it can be done.
Q: How do you mean?
A: Well Derek and Brian and Mike were smart enough to find a key ally in
Lord Banks who had a deeply emotional connection with our sport because his
father was a racing pigeon man. Then they did the logical thing of reaching
out to another group of Allies, war veterans. No decent military man can
ignore the story of our brave birds, and their sense of fair play also comes
to bear because the pigeon's story is so seldom told.
Q: Can this happen in other areas?
A: Well, the HOC event was also blessed by the commitment of Gerry Francis
who is such a beloved sport figure who has great credibility when he speaks
of our birds as great athletes. And the fact Her Majesty keeps racing
pigeons is also a phenomenal advantage for the U.K. sport. But, when it is
properly told, the story of pigeons is so compelling that I believe that we
can indeed begin to claw our way back to a more positive place in the
Q: Your speech at the HOC dinner has generated a lot of positive reaction
from within the sport, why do you think that is?
A: Part of it was because it was a positive speech, in that I'm not willing
to give up on our hobby. And, based on feedback I've gotten from fanciers,
I think my speaking from the heart connected emotionally with a lot of
fanciers. A lot of them said they had lost touch with the deep emotional
connection they have with pigeons in today's environment of big money races,
Q: Your main emphasis was on youth. Do you really think it is possible to
attract young people to our sport?
A: Of course it is. But that is only part of my message. Even if we can't
win over big numbers the very act of trying will improve our image
enormously. As a filmmaker I can tell you all you need is a few
heart-warming stories, told well, and you give yourself terrific leverage.
That is what happened with the movement to get pets into convalescent
centers. All they needed were a few studies to prove the efficacy of pets,
in improving people's health and emotional well-being, and they literally
rewrote the rules of animals within the healthcare industry.
Q: So what would the national organization do with these millions of
A: I'm not sure they should try. I think it will require an effort that is
outside the bounds of any racing organization.
Q: Why do you think that?
A: Our mission is to improve the image of pigeons, period. The racing
folks tend to be snobby about all the other breeds and that really hurts the
Q: Why is that?
A: Because there are a lot of very powerful people who love other kinds of
pigeons. They are our first and foremost allies yet we ignore them. In a
public relations sense it is arrogant and stupid.
Q: Powerful people like who?
A: Well, to name a few, the incoming head of the entire Mormon Church is a
Birmingham roller fancier and there are a number of pretty high powered
corporate CEOs who are fancy pigeon breeders.
Q: So what kind of effort would you see?
A: Well imagine something like the Rock Dove Trust. I¹d use that name
because it is historically where our birds came from and the word ³dove² has
much better connotations. It would be a catchy way to ease into talking
about pigeons and creates a much different first impression. This
organization¹s mission would be to promote the hobby of pigeon keeping
globally, through education and public relations programs. It would also
work with the folks who are developing humane ways of controlling feral
populations and work to coordinate government and scientific information
worldwide relating to issues like Bird Flu, restrictive zoning, etc.
Q: Where would you put it?
A: Location isn't as important as it used to be with the internet, it could
be a virtual company without a dedicated office. Or it could be in a major
media center, like London, and it could have chapters in each country.
Q: How would you pay for it?
A: Well, don't get the idea I've thought all this out, I'm just throwing
out ideas. But it really isn't anything new, special interest groups do
this every day. It's just a matter of whether the pigeon sport can do it.
Q: Why couldn't the sport do it?
A: I worry about the national organizations in terms of their promotional
skills. I say that just because I've provided a lot of film support to them
and in most cases they haven't known how to execute a good public relations
effort. I've given a lot of material away that has basically been wasted,
and that's frustrating. And we have a leadership problem too. Around the
world you find some of the most senior racing pigeon voices are just bullies
that fought their way to the top. They like their little perks as big-shots
but they make miserable leaders. Anything that changes the status quo in
this sport will have a lot of enemies.
Q: Well, imagine the best case, how would it be funded?
A: Well an obvious way is to get donations from people believed in what you
were doing. There are many aging pigeon people who would like to bequeath
some of their assets to protect the hobby¹s future. But I think there is
another source of funds fanciers don't think about that is important,
whether it went to a new organization or paid for promotion by the existing
Q: What's that?
Q: You would raise band prices?
A: Well there are fewer fanciers today, but the birdage in races is the
same or higher than ever. It's a little like the crazy U.S. with cheap
gasoline and we're sadly not collecting enough gas taxes to keep our highway
infrastructure in decent shape. The way to instantly build up a marketing
war chest is to double or triple the price of bands.
Q: What about pensioners?
A: I knew you¹d ask that. I know a lot of these old timers. And a lot of
the biggest bullies pretend to speak for them. Many of our older members
would be very happy to see something happening to save the sport, others
would probably raise a few less birds. For that matter you could include
25 bands with your membership and then charge more for additional bands.
Q: Why would you do that?
A: Well, from a marketing standpoint our pricing is upside down. The more
bands you buy, the more it should cost, because the more birds you put in
the system the greater the strain you put on the hobby in terms of lost
pigeons, overcrowded lofts upsetting neighbors, etc. And it would address
the issue of professional breeders who profit from the hobby.
Q: Is that fair to breeders?
A: You must be joking. This is a multi-million dollar global sport where
probably less than 2% of that money goes to governing and promoting itself.
The vast amount of the wealth goes to breeders who make a fortune on our
hobby and seldom, if ever, give anything back. And I'm not singling out one
country, it's a global issue. I'd like to see a stud have to pay a fiver
for a band.
Q: Would they agree?
A: Probably not, but the reality is that we must have money to fight for
the very hobby that they are profiting from.
Q: You were pretty tough on "the market" in your latest video, "Secrets of
A: Well, I think many of the top fanciers have done a terrific job in
elevating the value of good pigeons. I have the utmost respect for a man
who breeds well and wins races and then sells his birds for a good price
because of his personal skills. It's the secondary market that concerns me,
where people build gene pools of winners and run it as a business.
Q: Don¹t a lot of these people have strong followings?
A: It's time for the average fancier, who is literally wondering if his
hobby is going to disappear, to wake up and stop treating these commercial
breeders like rock stars and look at the math. There are probably a million
bands sold worldwide each year that go on birds that will never race. They
are on the legs of youngsters that will be sold commercially, often for
hundreds, even thousands of pounds. Does the hobby benefit from this
other than a few pennies profit on the band, no.
Q: Don't many studs contribute birds for benefits, etc.?
A: Certainly, but that is like asking if rich people ever give to
charities. Of course they do, but the wealthy pay taxes like the rest of us
so a government can be run on a stable source of funds. There's a
difference between making a big noise about donating a few spare youngsters
versus providing money on ALL the youngsters you sell. Bands are a
constant, renewable revenue stream, and that is precisely what you need to
create predictable revenue to protect and preserve our hobby.
Q: Do you feel like a radical with ideas like this?
A: Not at all. I feel like one of the Old Guard. People forget that our
founders were some very decent folks who were in the sport for the love of
pigeons and racing, not becoming millionaires. Some of our most famous
people from a half century ago would be shocked and disturbed at how pigeon
prices, and race prizes, have escalated without the hobby itself seeing any
real benefit. I venture they'd be more agitated than I am.
Q: Are other people saying this around the world?
A: You mean in publications? Sadly no. Frankly the big breeders and the
big money races now have enormous power within the hobby, both in the
magazines and within the organizations themselves.
Q: Is it really as bad as you say?
A: Well let's go back to where we started. Our hobby is in danger of being
snuffed out, killed, by bad publicity, bad science, bad government
decisions and I see absolutely nothing on the horizon that shows we're going
to lift our head up from the last race sheet, or "wonder couple" stud ad and
see the headlight of the oncoming train. I applaud folks like Peter Bryant
dealing with DEFRA, but I'm talking about a much bigger issue. We will
never be able to survive unless we get serious about working the problem
together, globally. It's the only way.
Q: Do you really think the average fancier cares about other countries and
how they do things?
A: I talk to average fanciers every day. Pigeons are their hobby, their
passion and their emotional salvation. All they want to do is fly their
birds. But I know that everyone sees these are dark days. The average
fancier realizes something has to change. It's really a matter of having
global leadership that fanciers trust to frame our message and protect and
promote pigeon keeping.
Q: You keep mentioning the global nature of the challenge. Will the
average fancier understand that?
A: I think they do, or they will soon. And if they don¹t its up to people
with vision to help them understand that times have changed. Media is now
global, so a positive story in one country appears in many others. Second
the internet has broken down all the barriers we used to have between pigeon
people. Other than language issues we can instantly see who is doing what,
and we can share information at the speed of light.
Q: Your "Marathon In The Sky" is considered the classic film on the sport.
What do you plan to do in the future that can add to what you've already
A: Well, I appreciate the way people react to "Marathon", but actually
"Share the Blue Sky" is probably a equally important work.
Q: Why is that?
A: Well, first of all it was a joint American/Chinese production. Our
contact with Beijing Television was the first co-production of its kind, on
any topic, between the two countries and it shows that we can, in fact,
work globally on creating positive messages that are in a variety of
languages. Also it was much more extensive in showing the phenomenal scope
of pigeon keeping and its impact on people's lives.
Q: So what's next?
A: Well, "Secrets of Champions" was very popular so I will continue to add
titles in this series. And, on a bigger scale, I've converted our
production systems to High Definition, which is the most significant
technical advance in television production in my 30 year career. Right now
I'm looking at re-doing "Marathon" in HD, basically updating a 15 year old
story, and possibly premiering it in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.
All I have to do is figure out how to fund it! I've also written a film
script about a group of inner-city kids who accidentally get their hands on
an extremely valuable racing pigeon and, ultimately win a big race. It's a
fun story aimed at children and I'm working on re-writing it as a novel that
I can publish as well.
Q: That's an ambitious schedule. Are you now a full-time pigeon filmmaker?
A: No, it would be hard to make a living doing just that, so I have a
number of other films we are doing. But pigeons are my passion so I'm
trying to do as much as I can. I guess it's like the old saying, "do what
you love and the money will take care of itself".