THE EAGLE HUNTRESS screened as a part of the Sundance Kids category at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. For more information, head here.
The Eagle Huntress could easily be called GIRL POWER, because that’s really what it’s about. GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING BOYS DO would also work, but that’s a little lengthy and doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as well. This is incredible story of a young Mongolian girl defying odds and gender stereotypes is almost unbelievable at times, but Aisholpan is simply following her dreams.
Aisholpan lives in a remote, harsh part of Mongolia, the Altai Mountains. The Kazakhs there are nomads, living and hunting traditionally. They are nomads and live simply in yurts during the summer and often travel to cities, with warmer buildings, in the winter. Aisholpan’s father comes from a long line of Eagle Hunters. They train and use eagles to hunt animals for their meat and fur. It’s a unique and special bond, hunter and eagle, and only made more interesting by the fact that Eagle Hunters only use their eagles for seven years before releasing them back into the wild.
Eagle Hunters have always been male. This doesn’t stop Aisholpan from wanting to learn how to be one, though. Her father and mother are supportive, firmly believing that girls can do anything boys do. And despite other Eagle Hunters bristling at the idea of a “gross girl” learning the art and craft of Eagle Hunting, she sets off on an adventure to become the first Eagle Huntress.
The film is separated into three parts: Aisholpan capturing and training her first eagle, her participating in a prestigious Golden Eagle Festival, and her going on her first winter hunt. The filming and editing are lush and grand, with sweeping tracking shots of the breathtaking landscape and eagles in flight. This combined with the emotional score gives the film a bit of a narrative, sometimes staged feel.
A more complicated story could have been exploring the social/psychological impact of a woman wanting to become an Eagle Hunter (the few talking heads of salty, elder Eagle Hunters dismissing Aisholpan because “girls don’t like the cold” and other such nonsense almost serve as comic relief), or following Aisholpan on a less dramatic/edited hunt. Instead director Otto Bell kept his message and story simple: The Eagle Huntress is about Aisholpan kicking ass and never giving up.
It’s a stunning message of female empowerment and a testament to the impact of having strong, positive influences in one’s life. These are important messages for kids and teens and this documentary could be a valuable teaching tool. After watching The Eagle Huntress, adults and young people alike will leave the theatre with their hearts soaring as high and free as Aisholpan’s golden eagle.
Siân Melton covered Sundance for us live from Park City, Utah. Read about her other work, including her Toronto-based film series The MUFF Society, below.