Aisholpan is 13 years old, living a nomadic life in Mongolia, she wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps and become an eagle hunter, which traditionally, is a role undertaken by men. It’s by no means an easy job either, having to first catch an eaglet, develop a bond with the bird and then train for months before finally setting off into the harsh winter landscape, riding horses in the deep snow and having the eagle catch foxes to make clothes to help the family survive the harsh conditions. Twelve generations of the Nurgaiv family have been hunters, but such is this young girl’s vehemence and courage, her father believes she can become the very female to have this role bestowed upon her. Needless to say, many of the locals are not particularly enthused by the decision to allow a girl to take on a man’s job – but this is a girl determined to prove her worth.
There’s an infectious enthusiasm to Aisholpan’s demeanour, who is so brave and strong-minded, while so endearingly modest, always with a smile on her face. Her story is an incredibly inspiring one too, and yet she’d probably be the last person to realise that be the case. This film has a strong message of equality, and also that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough. In the case of this young girl, her supposed impediment of being female, according to some of the locals at least, even appears to be beneficial, for the affection she shows to the eaglet to help form that bond has maternal tendencies, and given they snatched the bird from it’s mother’s nests, you could argue that having that female presence would help the animal adapt into its new environment, and develop this trust with its new owner.
The film is naturally somewhat predictable – it wouldn’t be much of a story had she failed, after all – but Bell maintains the suspense, and when she’s hunting you do fear she may not achieve. The director also follows the formula of the competition narrative, which we so often see in cinema, but generally it’s fictional, but as she partakes in the eagle hunting competition, hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps and be crowd champion – despite being the youngest participant – the viewer is kept on the edge of their seat, for this is not scripted.
Given the setting of this endeavour, it goes without saying that The Eagle Huntress makes for a striking visual experience, as the beautiful landscapes, complete with shots of the eagle soaring through the air are incredibly beautiful. So while this film may be released on the very same day as a certain Rogue One, the latest addition to the Star Wars franchise will have to be pretty damn good to be as compelling as this indelible documentary.