Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Eagle Huntress

First-time film-maker Otto Bell spent his life savings to capture this story about Aisholopan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia, who breaks a local tradition and becomes the first female ever to train an eagle for hunting.

It was money well spent.

This a beautiful and gentle documentary, well, except for a sacrificial killing of a goat and fox, and is filled with stunning landscapes. It's also an uplifting story of female empowerment that will resonate with teenage girls around the world - whether eagles are their thing or not.

Inspired by Israeli photographer Asher Svidensky's photographs of Aisholopan, Bell travelled to the Altai Mountains in western Mongolia to meet Aisholopan's family, including her father Agalai, a seventh-generation Master Eagle Hunter, to convince them to let him film Aisholopan's story.

A scene from the film, The Eagle Huntress.
A scene from the film, The Eagle Huntress.

During the summer, the family lives a nomadic life in traditional gers, or yurts, and in winter they settle in a small house.

They invited Bell to live with them on and off throughout the year as Aisholopan captures, trains, competes and finally hunts with her own eagle.

Much of the film's drama comes as Aisholopan achieves each steps. Watching her father lower her down a cliff face to snatch a young eagle from its nest is particularly nerve-racking. We then watch her work hard with her father to train the eagle, until the first moment of truth when Aisholopan participates in the Golden Eagle Festival.

This is followed by a 22-day shoot on the tundra in winter as Aisholopan and her eagle attempt to capture their first fox.

Much of this footage is interspersed with quickly cut comments from older members of the Kazakh tribe commenting on why women shouldn't hunt with eagles. These segments come across as comical, and it's hard to know exactly what the locals think about Aisholopan and her new hobby.

This points to one small problem - a lack of jeopardy. With supportive parents, determination and natural talent, Aisholopan makes it look relatively easy to achieve her dream, making this uplifting story feel a little too good to be true.

It's hard, however, to look past the simple message - when brought up believing in themselves any young girl can be who she wants to be. For that reason alone, The Eagle Huntress is worth watching.

Verdict: A simple but empowering female story.

Cast: Aisholpan Nurgaiv
Director: Otto Bell
Running Time: 87 mins
Rating: G

- TimeOut

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