If you have an inkling to see a young warrior film with a locale as exotic as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the documentary by Otto Bell “The Eagle Huntress” is your film.
The story is about Aisholpan, a thirteen year-old girl from Kazakhstan who comes from a long line of eagle hunters. Though the term might be misleading, eagle hunting is the act of hunting with eagles, not for them. In Mongolia, this is a sacred and vital act. Ever since Aisholpan was a toddler, she watched her father and grandfather hunt with these stately creatures, catching foxes and small game.
The youngster is driven to be a huntress. With striking visuals, the film breezily follows Aisholpan’s journey from practice to perfection.
Narrated by actor Daisy Ridley of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the film has the adventurous quality of an epic. Indeed the sight of Aisholpan’s father in a billowing fur coat, a crowned hat, and a golden eagle perched on his arm, makes the entire film seem a Jedi interlude.
Again and again, Aisholpan is beset with hardship and obstacles, not least of them being the cynical, dismissive looks from most elder males, but the girl moves on. Aisholpan does everything: she climbs mountains, she rides a horse miles and miles in the dead of winter and she feeds her feathered familiar bloody, raw meat.
A highlight of the film are the stunned, uncomprehending and even depressed faces of the male hunters as they realize that the teenage girl is a force to be reckoned with. Within each hard bitten male face is the imprint of stubborn and repressive male dominance. With every eye roll and look of disbelief Aisholpan beams.
Though the film does at times feel aimed at younger audiences in its treatment of animals, family and wide smiles, “The Eagle Huntress” is compelling for all ages. In the tradition of a martial arts quest, or a mystical space opera placed here on earth, Aisholpan’s story proves that gender has no bearing on gory hunting or the process of becoming one with an eagle.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org