The Eagle Huntress
Follow Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter, and rise to the pinnacle of a tradition that has been typically been handed down from father to son for centuries.
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★★★½ review by TajLV on Letterboxd
Film #4 of 30 in my March Around The World | 2018 Challenge (Mongolia)
Last year my friend told me about this documentary and just raved about it. Then, when I saw my library had chosen it for a weekend showing in their small theater, I knew it was something I wanted to see. Sure enough, so well put together is director Otto Bell's debut feature, it could almost be considered an unscripted docudrama, telling the story of a 13-year-old nomadic girl named Aisholpan who becomes Mongolia's first recognized eagle huntress.
Narrator Daisy Ridley tells of Aisholpan's early interest in eagle hunting. Her father Rys Nurgaiv was a national champion and she grew up watching him train and fly his large golden eagle, which provided food their family during the cold winter months. Indeed, the girl comes from a long tradition -- generations of of eagle hunters -- but she would be the first female ever to take up the skill.
Apart from her dream of following in her father's footsteps, Aisholpan is all girl. She studies at a village school, helps her mother with chores, plays with other youngsters her age, and enjoys putting on nail polish and tying a ribbon in her hair. Rys asks his own father for advice and receives his blessing to train his daughter in their ancient ways. So Rys starts her off learning to carry and feed his own bird, before they attempt to steal her own eaglette from a mountain aerie.
Bell brings us along on every step of Aisholpan's journey, from capturing and training her own bird, to entering the annual eagle-hunting competition and tracking down her first fox. Interviews with elderly hunters gives a feel for how much resistance there was to a girl taking on a man's job. But she's a natural and manages to prove wrong all their predictions of failure.
The cinematography is excellent as is the presentation of cultural detail, giving us an inside look at the life of a nomadic Mongolian family. The footage of the competition rivals that of any live sporting event. And no costume designer could do a better job at giving us variety of hunting garb, which is actually a facet of the contest judged on a 10-point scale along with horseback riding, speed of bird retrieval and a simulated hunt. The film is a good one, well worthy of its BAFTA nomination for Best Documentary.
★★★½ review by sailordanae on Letterboxd
Film #8 of March Around the World 2018
This is a very polished, professional documentary. If it definitely has a feeling of recreation, and it very much has an agenda it seeks to promote, that doesn't make it less a compelling story. Yes, the filmmakers very much want to promote Aisholpan's story of determination and the idea that anyone can do anything they put their mind to. I don't disagree with that desire, and movies are a valuable tool for younger viewers to imagine themselves in different roles.
I do wish more time had been devoted to learning about the importance and role of the eagle hunters in their traditional society. The film focusses a bit too narrowly on Aisholpan, leaving the viewer wanting to know more about her people and their culture. I felt closer to traditonal Mongolia in The Cave of the Yellow Dog. Perhaps this is a reflection of how polished and professional The Eagle Huntress is in comparison to the grittier, lower budget Yellow Dog. Also, the closing theme here is terrible, and really should have utilized traditional Mongolian music instead of western electropop.
Criticisms aside, I did enjoy the film quite a lot and would revisit it again. Aisholpan has an amazing story, and it's worth hearing. The film captures the beauty of Mongolia's Altai mountains, desert and high plains almost as well as a BBC documentary would. I'd definitely recommend it for the late elementary/middle school crowd. You could show this in schools with no problems.
★★★★ review by Sara Baudelaire on Letterboxd
I have no idea if this is staged or not, but Aisholpan is a badass. This movie is why people play Rangers in RPGs.
★★★★ review by Olevar on Letterboxd
Un documental padrísimo al que en varios momentos le pega duro que su director pareciera no confiar en la fuerza de sus increíbles imágenes y protagonistas, por lo que llena todo de efectos visuales innecesarios, sobremusicalización y una voz en off completamente estorbosa y exageradamente explicativa. Me encanta Daisy Ridley, pero viendo ésta película deseé en serio que se callara.
Creo que tendría que haber dejado este documental hasta el final de Ambulante. Es tan bonito, tan lleno de esperanza y de la fuerza espiritual de una niña de 13 años que quiere cumplir su sueño de ser cetrera, que hubiera servido para reconstruir el alma pisoteada que me dejaron el resto de los documentales con sus temas de horror y dolor interminable.
Muy lejos de aquí, en Mongolia, hay una niña increíble y un águila que lograron cosas que todos les dijeron que eran imposibles, y que con la pura fuerza de su espíritu y las ganas de no abandonar sus sueños, pusieron un cimiento muy fuerte para cambiar el papel histórico que han tenido las mujeres dentro de su comunidad. Y por eso, por más que la realidad cercana sea espantosa, siempre servirá pensar que a miles de kilómetros de aquí están Ashiolpan y su águila, recordándonos que hasta lo más imposible se puede y que el mundo, por más difícil que a veces parece ser, por más podrida que sea cada ventana por la que nos asomemos, puede ser increíble.
★★★½ review by Raul Marques on Letterboxd
The best ethnographic/feminist/sports/Disney princess/Mongolian documentary I've ever seen, even if a lot of it feels overproduced and staged. Daisy Ridley's narration is mostly redundant, Sia's song is, as usual, too bombastic for the film it closes and the filmmakers are so enamored by Planet Earth style of editing they're willing to do the hideous atrocity of cutting away from the truly pure human protagonists of their movie, but the result overall is still a positively crowdpleasing little picture that's incredibly intoxicating.
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