The Eagle Huntress (2016)
There are quite a few documentaries about young women going through their early teen years trying to figure out what they want to become and accomplish, which is especially tough in this day and age of internet scrutiny and online bullying. This isn’t that movie. Instead, this story is about an incredibly determined young woman defying the odds to become one of the first “Eagle Hunters” in her tribe’s history.
The young lady is 13-year-old Aisholpan, and she lives in the Mongolian steppes among her tribe called the Kazakh. The Kazakh, under the shadow of the Altai Mountains, have for centuries hunted with eagles for food and sport. They are a tight group of nomads who raise cattle and roam back-and-forth from one area of the vast Mongolian grasslands to another area, depending upon the time of the year. The Kazakh still practice many of the old ways and traditions, while living in contrast with their use of solar panels, radios, and trucks.
Inspired by a BBC photograph of Aisholpan with an eagle, filmmaker Otto Bell traveled to Mongolia with a limited budget, crew and incredibly small amount of cameras and sound equipment to created a stunningly, brilliant documentary that is both beautiful and inspiring to watch.
Aisholpan is like any other 13-year-old young woman. She goes to school, laughs in her bedroom with her friends and regularly swaps out the polish on her nails. The difference between her and her classmates, as we see in one of the first scenes of the film, is that she is determined to become an eagle huntress. Bell captures the fire and strong determination of Aisholpan and we get to see what makes her tick. Most of the tribe elders don’t think she can succeed as eagle hunting is considered a man’s occupation, and the women are too delicate and care too much about cooking and cleaning to make any effort to become a huntress. Luckily for Aisholpan, her family, and especially her father, are confident and proud that she can not only succeed but be one of the best. Bell shows us great moments between Aisholpan and her father, as he always praises her while he teaches her the art and science of hunting with an eagle. There are times in the film that Bell shows us Aisholpan’s mother and sister aren’t quite sure she should be doing this adventure, but they are fueled by the father’s confidence in Aisholpan.
Bell has found a remarkable young woman to be the centerpiece of his film. Aisholpan is a sweet, teenage girl who constantly has a smile on her face, no matter the task. If she fails, she literally dusts the snow off her clothes and tries again, confident that she will succeed. Nowhere is this more evident when she and her father climb a mountain to find an eaglet to capture. With the father above her holding onto the lifeline rope that Aisholpan hopefully never needs, they constantly talk to each other with Aisholpan giving updates on her progress as her father gives warnings to be careful; all the while at the same time encouraging her that she can accomplish this goal. Bell creates the tension this scene needs and we rejoice along with Aisholpan as she captures her eagle under a blanket. The father is convinced that this is a magical bird and she will accomplish much with this bird.
The cinematography, by Simon Niblett is both striking and remarkable as time after time we see scenes of ravishing beauty that at the same time are overwhelmingly isolated, as Aisholpan and her family seem to be the only people on that planet. The scenes of Aisholpan and her father traveling across snow-packed mountains and frozen streams are both beautiful and terrifying as you wonder if they will ever make it back alive to their home and family. The naration of the film, by actress Daisy Ridley, is sparse and only used when it truely is necessary. This is a great family film, especially for a young woman to see; though smaller children may be upset by a few slightly bloody hunting scenes.
The Eagle Huntress is a film filled with bravery, determination and the human spirit filled with confidence that nothing can stop someone who knows she will succeed. That Aisholpan succeeds is not the question, its how well this 13-year-old girl does might surprise you, and then again, once you get to know her, it just might meet your expectations for her. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The movie is playing exclusively at Regal Tara Cinemas 4
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