The Eagle Huntress

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Eagle Huntress
"This film is worth seeing simply for its National Geographic style snapshot of rural Mongolia."

If you think achieving equality is tough in modern Britain, spare a thought for 13-year-old Aisholpan, who lives in the Altai mountain region of Mongolia. She comes from a long line of eagle hunters, a tradition whereby men capture a golden eagle as a juvenile and train it up to help them hunt across the barren and unforgiving landscape before - seven years later - giving it thanks and a sacrifice as well as its freedom. It's a man's world, but Aisholpan and her dad have other ideas.

She has always grown up around the birds and shows no fear of them, despite the fact that their wingspan is as wide as she is tall. She dreams of taming her own and her dad agrees. "I think boys and girls are equal," he says, although as Otto Bell's film shows, that view puts him firmly in the minority in his community.

Bell's film traces her steps as she sets about making her dream come true, from clambering up a rocky outrcrop to bag her first eaglet, to the intense and gruelling training sessions - lasting hours, covering miles and often in feet of freezing snow - that she undertakes with her dad in a bid to prepare for the annual Golden Eagle Festival, where she will pit her bird against those of 70, mostly grown, men.

This film is worth seeing simply for its National Geographic style snapshot of rural Mongolia, with TV wildlife cinematographer Simon Niblett easily switching up to the bigger canvas. It also features drone and GoPro camerawork shot by eagle harness that brings a real sense of the exertion and danger that Aisholpan faces when she goes to capture her bird and a feeling of the speed and agility of the eagle itself.

Beyond that, Aisholpan is an inspiration for kids everywhere, happily mixing her eagle ambitions with more familiar concerns, such as nail polish and school work - she plans to be a doctor and, after seeing this, you're unlikely to bet against it. Her dedication is romantic, in the old sense of the phrase, and adventurous, and Pierre Takal's sharp editing keeps you with her every step of the way, whether it is seamlessly recreating the thrill of the hunt or showing the unintentional humour of a succession of elderly men shaking their heads sadly at the thought of a "fragile" girl becoming a hunter. Educational and entertaining in equal measure, by the end, you'll be cheering Aisholpan on as her passionate resilience also begins to win over those doubters around her.

Editor's note: This is a review of the Sundance version of the film. Some narration by Daisy Ridley has been added to the UK release cut

Reviewed on: 25 Mar 2016
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A teenager decides to become the first female eagle huntress.

Director: Otto Bell

Year: 2016

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: UK, Mongolia, US


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