87 minutes | MPAA rating: G
It has great cinematography. Deep connections between humans and animals. And a ton of female empowerment.
Still, “The Eagle Huntress” is troubling when it comes to documentary authenticity: Chunks of this “nonfiction” picture feel as if they were re-staged for the camera.
Set in the mountains and rolling plains of Mongolia, Otto Bell’s doc follows 13-year-old Aisholpan, the daughter of the nomadic herder Nurgaiv. Like countless generations before him, Nurgaiv puts food on his family’s table by capturing and training golden eagles that act like highly skilled hunting dogs.
It’s a father-to-son tradition that is about to get a swift kick in the keister. Aisholpan — with her doting father’s cooperation — is determined to own and train her own eagle. Moreover, she plans on competing in a sort of raptor rodeo that attracts participants from hundreds of miles.
So this sweet, totally inoffensive youngster is about to weather not only the rigors of eagle hunting but the disapproval of the patriarchal society into which she was born.
After an introductory segment that explains the eagle hunting tradition (“Star Wars” actress Daisy Ridley provides the narration) and some of the details of Aisholpan’s life (she attends a boarding school in a regional town and only gets home on the weekends) the film captures the efforts of Aisholpan and her father to descend down a cliff face on ropes to snatch a baby eaglet from its aerie.
The idea is to grab a young bird when it’s strong enough to survive outside the nest but not yet able to fly. (Though it’s not explained in the film, this was the first scene shot by Bell and his crew, who fortuitously visited Nurgaiv’s campsite on the very day the father and daughter were planning the adventure.) [to capture an eaglet.)]
This is followed by months of bonding and practice, a visit to the big eagle festival — where Aisholpan and her bird stun the competition — and on to a winter hunt that will prove once and for all whether this teenage girl has the right stuff. (more…)