There can be no doubt where the story of the Eagle Huntress is going. It’s going to have a happy ending, and the audience should be under no illusion about that. However, it’s a rare occurrence that I have rooted for one as much.
13-year-old Kazakh girl Aisholpan Nurgaiv has dreams of being the first female in her family, and one of the first in Mongolia, to become an eagle huntress, a tradition of hunting with the aid of an eagle, not hunting eagles as this reviewer might first have thought. Traditionally, it is a position that is passed down from father to son, so while her family supports her endeavours, there are some in the eagle hunting community who are skeptical of her abilities.
In interview style shots, old male eagle hunters grumble that women are too weak for the sport and should instead make tea, further pointing the enlightened 21st century viewer to the fact that the film will prove this is not the case.
The photography is beautiful, though that may say more for how stunning the wilderness in which the film is set is. Wide sweeping shots of the Mongolian plains act to show the audience the treachery of the landscape Aisholpan has to conquer. Shots of Aisholpan and her father hunting in traditional Mongolian dress paired with contemporary wind breakers put the act of eagle hunting itself in context – a practice steeped in tradition brought in to the 21st century.
The verity of the film however, has come into question – Aisholpan is not the first eagle huntress in Mongolia as so many are rushing to point out, since viewers have been reminded that Reuters reported on Makpal Abdrazakova in 2012, a 25 year old eagle huntress who had the blessing of her elders. Regardless, viewers will have a hard time saying that Aisholpan’s efforts are less impressive.
The degree of difficulty involved in eagle hunting is brought into context for those who might not realise it. Seeing eagles in flight, it can be easy to forget the imposing figures that the birds cut. Shots of an eagle perched on the arm of a 13-year-old puts this back in to perspective quite quickly.
The first feature length offering from director Otto Bell is narrated and produced by Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley which only makes sense, really. Like Rey in Star Wars, here we have a tough, plucky female protagonist fighting against the odds in a male dominated world. There’s a nice kind of poetry to it.
Finding out an original song by Sia was to be the main theme of the film set off warning bells. Generally, original songs by pop sensations bring a new level of cheese to what was already probably going to be a very cheesy film. But here we have (sort of) found the exception. Sia’s soaring vocals and potentially overly inspirational lyrics paired with orchestral music just works for the purpose of The Eagle Huntress.
This is a film that will be inspirational for 13 year old girls, and it undeniably succeeds at doing that. The more hard core documentary fans probably won’t get as much of a kick out of it.
To be completely honest, if this film was nothing more than 90 minutes of Aisholpan smiling at the camera in an empty room I’d probably be all for it. She’s downright adorable.