Wednesday, 15 March 2017


Sony Pictures

It is not intended as a backhanded compliment or even a dismissal of Otto Bell's fine documentary, The Eagle Huntress, when I confess that for a lot of its brief 87-minute running time I found myself thinking, “This would be a great animated film”.

The story of Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a 13-year-old Mongolian girl to become not just the first eagle hunter in her family but in the country – defying tradition and patriarchy, as well as Mother Nature – is the kind of story Disney and Pixar often excel at. Even Laika, given their recent success with Kubo and the Two Strings, could work wonders with both the story and scenery.

Beautifully shot by Simon Niblett (and by drones, I would hazard to guess given some of the amazing aerial shots), The Eagle Huntress even looks like a fairy tale: the landscape of the Mongolian steppe, with its green expanses and snowy mountains, lending itself to the big screen.

For centuries, eagle hunting has been an integral part of Mongolian culture, both as sport and as a means of providing for one's family. As such, eagle hunting has always been a man's pursuit. Aisholpan, the eldest of three children, has grown up watching her father hunt and train with eagles and knows that she, too, will be an eagle hunter. Her father, Rys, has no issue with his daughter's dream, encouraging her every step of the way; whether stealing an eaglet from a rocky mountain ledge or training the bird to fly to her arm at her command, or teaching both she and her eagle to hunt for foxes in the winter snow.

Whether the male elders of Mongolia, who gather for regular eagle hunting contests, will be as accepting of Aisholpan's dream is another thing entirely, and is the thrust of Bell's film. Will she prove herself among her older, more practiced eagle hunters? Will her optimistic school girl spirit withstand the scrutiny and disapproval of the male elders?

Narrated by Daisy Ridley (who is also one of the executive producers, along with Morgan Spurlock), Aisholpan's fate is never really in doubt. But as the story of girl with a big dream and a big smile, Aisholpan's fairy tale come reality is an inspiring one - no matter what format it is told in.

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