A Documentary Family Movie
The 13-year- old Kazakh girl Aisholpan lives with her family in the Mongolian part of the Altai Mountains. During the week she stays at a boarding school in the nearby town. At the weekend she helps her parents with household chores. Besides wanting to become a doctor, her biggest dream is to be the first girl to join the annual hunting competition with a trained eagle. The male members of the tribe eye her plans sceptically: a woman’s chores are to cook, not to hunt. But Aisholpan is determined. With the help of her father she steals a young golden eagle from its nest and trains it. Finally she can qualify for the competition.
With his first long documentary, The Eagle Huntress, the US-American Otto Bell carries us off into the wild mountain landscape of western Mongolia, captured by his director of photography Simon Niblett with the help of drones and GoPro cameras, including stunning panorama shots. Just as he lets us fly high into the sky with the eagle, he welcomes us into a foreign culture; yet Niblett’s photography and Bell’s cautious mise-en- scène preserve its authenticity and never take the perspective of a curious-intrusive tourist.
This film, co-produced and empathetically narrated by actor Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), removes the tribe’s long-existing gender boundaries without morally pointing the finger. Luckily, Aisholpan’s family supports her hunting intentions.
Similarly casual, yet precise and clearly biased as the film portrays the societal circumstances, it tells the exciting moments of the story without any sensationalism. The scene when her father abseils her to the eagle’s nest and she has to catch the moment when the mother-eagle is out looking for food to “kidnap” the offspring, is characterised by man’s everlasting battle with nature, which has outlasted the modern age. The film also sets a touching monument to the fellowship between Aisholpan and the young eagle, far beyond any animal-humanisation à la Disney.
Aisholpan Nurgaiv, who portrays herself in this true story, convinces with her confident appearance in front of the camera and may most likely encourage not only the young female audience to follow their own path despite all restrictive, societal standards. In this sense, The Eagle Huntress is an educational as well as a very entertaining, literally speaking, family movie.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2016