The Eagle Huntress

 

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A captivating real-life story in a film that demands to be viewed in the cinema.

 

The Eagle Huntress

 

In 2003 The Story of the Weeping Camel brought to the cinema screen a wonderful portrait of life among the nomads of Mongolia. It was a documentary that conveyed their life-style with absolute authenticity while simultaneously telling a personal story of remarkably wide appeal. Now with The Eagle Huntress directed by Otto Bell we have a film that can be thought of as a worthy companion piece. The setting is much the same, but the personal story featured here is quite different and it revolves around a Kazakh girl named Aisholpan.

 

We first meet Aisholpan at school with her two younger siblings and at first the only unusual feature appears to be that they are boarders five days a week because there is no school near their remote home. However, we soon discover that for generations members of the girl's family have been eagle hunters training the birds that help their people to obtain food and clothing and Aisholpan herself is exceptional because, despite being female, she is suited to join this tradition. Trained by her father, she is already at thirteen skilled in the art and totally unafraid of eagles and before long she captures a female eaglet which will become her own.

 

With the camera being so close and so varied in its coverage one may wonder at times if some unacknowledged re-enactments are involved, but the film draws us in to this unfamiliar way of life with total conviction aided by some breathtaking colour photography (this is emphatically a work that ought to be seen in the cinema and not on television). With Aisholpan proving to be a wonderfully serious no-nonsense child who commands the screen, her story combines a very personal appeal with elements of strong interest for feminists since Aisholpan's ambitions are pursued in the face of hostility from traditionalists who believe that eagle hunters should always be males.

 

As we follow Aisholpan's endeavours with subtitled voice-overs from her and her parents and with an extra admirably uncluttered narration in English by Daisy Ridley, we share her excitement in partaking in the annual competitive Golden Eagle Festival at Olgii. This gives the film a natural arc, but it might have been helpful to be forewarned that in order to prove herself, Aisholpan would also need to achieve her first catch with her father in the role of chaser and herself as hunter. This takes place during what is in essence a second separate segment: it's set in winter which makes for even more stunning images. The film is also notably well edited and must surely count as one of the year's most satisfying documentaries, one with a wider appeal than most.             

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

  

Featuring  Aisholpan Nurgaiv and her father Nurgaiv Rys, with narration by Daisy Ridley. 

 

Dir Otto Bell, Pro Stacey Reiss, Sharon Chang and Otto Bell, Ex Pro Morgan Spurlock, Daisy Ridley, Jeremy Chilnick, Dan Cogan, Barbara Dobkin, Susan MacLaury, Regina Kulik Scully and Marc H. Simon, Ph Simon Niblett, Ed Pierre Takal, Music Jingle Punks.

 

Sony Pictures Classics/Kissiki Film/Stacey Reiss Productions/19340 Productions/Artemis Rising Foundation-Altitude Film Entertainment.
87 mins. UK/Mongolia/USA. 2016. Rel: 16 December 2016. Cert. U.