This spellbinding documentary follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl who is fighting to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her Kazakh family. Through breathtaking aerial cinematography and intimate verite footage, the film captures her personal journey while also addressing universal themes like female empowerment, the natural world, coming of age and the onset of modernity.
Hard to believe this beautiful film is a documentary
Filmed in a remote part of Western Mongolia, this beautifully shot film chronicles the coming of age of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl who wants to become an Eagle Hunter like her dad, grandfather, and all male ancestors stretching back 12 generations. Her dad is all for it (quite a modern attitude, as it turns out) but custom dictates that eagle hunting (that's hunting with eagles, not hunting for eagles) is a male undertaking. Girls are too weak, fragile, get cold, etc. The usual explanations why a female can't do what a male does. However, Aisholpan is fearless. With dad's help, she climbs up and down a mountain to trap her own eaglet just before it's old enough to fly away from her. She trains it to hunt with humans. She competes in the local eagle-hunter festival in Ölgii (signage in the film is in Russian and English). All of this takes place surrounded by the beautiful but bleak mountains of the Mongolia steppe, carefully captured on film. (Looks a lot like Death Valley in winter to me.) These people are heroic just going about a nomad's daily subsistence life that's obviously hundreds or thousands of years old but adapted to modern times with down parkas, trucks, and motorcycles. Their lives are both far removed and yet arrestingly similar to Western life (minus the Starbucks). They care for their kids, drive, go to school, listen to the news on the radio, read by electricity stored from a solar array set up on a metal pole and a wooden stick.
The point: This movie captures a mostly pre-industrial society coping with 21st-century norms in a modern world, and with little to no extra effort as portrayed in this movie. For example, the film's Web page on Sony Pictures' site shows Aisholpan with a Go Pro Hero action camera strapped to her head, which explains where some of the film footage came from.
Billed as a documentary, we presumably see things as they happened. I couldn't say but nothing much goes wrong in this movie. Mostly, things go very right and the narrative just moves forward. Nevertheless, I was always cheering for Aisholpan, because she's a most worthy heroine.
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