There is something magical and pure about feminine strength in young girls, which usually begins to flail later on, as adolescence sets in. Disney has long tried to capture that fierceness through a set of princesses and heroines. Marketing companies thrive on appropriating some of that magic to sell their products (I’m looking at you Dove), yet it is the Eagle Huntress, a recent documentary by Otto Bell, that does well in capturing and distilling that magic for us to awe. With gorgeous cinematic landscapes as the background, Bell brings us the story of 13-year-old Aisholpan, a true heroine.
We find Aisholpan in the mountainous landscape of Mongolia, where she lives with her family. Despite this being a country deeply rooted in traditionalism, Aisholpan is not confronted in the least by her gender. In fact, she has chosen — and succeeded — in becoming a huntress. Aisholpan’s father, Nurgaiv is a hunter by trade. He captures birds and trains them to hunt. Although advised by a group of elders not to let a young woman engage in hunting — a traditionally male activity — Nurgaiv does not listen, and for Aisholpan this is not even a small obstacle. Her true challenges come during the tasks at hand in becoming a huntress.
Bell captures the fearlessness and glee contained in this spectacular rosy-cheeked package that is Aisholpan through a montage that sees her training and competing to become a huntress. The first hurdle to jump is to catch an eagle and take it away from its mother. This is just as complicated as it sounds, among the peaky cliffs in high mountains and encounters with foxes along the way, yet our heroine takes the challenge without detraction. The treacherous landscape also makes for engaging camerawork and DP Simon Niblett showcases this unspoiled terrain in all its majesty. Just as Aisholpan soars, the technical aspects of this documentary, narrated by Daisy Ridley — who some will recognize as another representation of female heroism — are also a thing of beauty.
Although frowned upon, Aisholpan enters the competition and nobody stops her. It is one of the heights of the documentary, as her journey up to this point is one of not giving up and marching ahead. She is the youngest female to enter that competition in her community. However, based on her preparation and the undeniable charm that radiates off the screen, this writer was easily swept away to root for her. What is possible has no limits, as this young woman takes to commanding an eagle to hunt. At times it would seem like the feel-good documentary left out some of the trials of this adventure, as it all seems too seamless, yet stunning shots of the wondrous nature might be enough to keep the audience engaged to continue following this inspiring journey.
For viewers too cynical to revel in the female power, there might be something else in this story: the way Aisholpan’s father stares straight into the camera and refers to her as a “tough kid,” might be the second most inspiring thing about this documentary. The importance of having this male figure believe in his daughter is perhaps one of the important takeaways, as it is not only the internal spirit that fuels us but also that social support that comes from family: the backbone of strength.
The Eagle Huntress runs 87 minutes, is in English and Kazakh with English subtitles and is rated G. It opened in our South Florida area this Wednesday, Nov. 30 at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater Miami. For nationwide screenings please click here and select “get tickets at the top of the page.