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.
Beautifully shot and heart-warming, but may have benefited more as a short film
Despite the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of this documentary (notably being omitted from the Oscar nominations in its respective category, while still being tipped as a potential front runner), The Eagle Huntress is a decent release that follows the story of (supposedly) the first eagle huntress in Asia, Aisholpan Nurgaiv. Nurgaiv is decidedly keen on entering a local eagle hunting festival at aged 13, before then venturing out into the mountains to become a fully-fledged eagle huntress.
Being an eagle huntress entails training a three-month-old eaglet (after taking it from its nest that is), with the eventual outcome of being able to successfully hunt with it, before letting it go after seven years to complete the "circle of life".
Undeniably, this is a challenging way of life that requires hard work and years to master. Yet the film portrays Aisholpan in a light that makes it feel like she is rather too conveniently good at the work and that she was always capable of achieving the end goal, thus it struggles to truly resonate when the all-important pinnacle moments arrive. Whilst it is fair to assume Aisholpan possesses some natural talent, we rarely see her fail or train with negative outcomes. Exploring this side would certainly have made the film more relatable, and although Aisholpan is indeed personable, and there are some moments with a heartening timbre, it is unrealistic to think she didn't have much of a challenge in her path towards becoming the first eagle huntress. That is, it is unrealistic to think that there were no other challenges, disregarding the challenge of gender. It is established that eagle hunting is very much a male profession, an aspect battled with constantly throughout the film, which even manages to have comedic impact at times, but unfortunately this gets increasingly repetitive by the end and is not seen to contribute towards any definitive conclusion.
That said, it is wonderful to watch Aisholpan and her father endeavour through the magnificent landscapes of Asia, as it is a superbly filmed documentary. This is most definitively one of the film's strongest attributes, as it feels often that it relies very much on nature to tell the story. Arguably it gets away with this, as the story is easy to follow, yet largely inconsequential; as part of western society, it is pre-determined exactly what we are meant to think about Aisholpan's ambitions. While on the one hand there is an absorbing undertone of female empowerment, there is little else to try and convince us that the conclusion will not be precisely what we expect.
The Eagle Huntress is a visual spectacle, full of emotion yet not as resonant as it potentially could have been as a short film.
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