This captivating doco was the darling of last year's festival circuit.
They say truth is stranger than fiction. The story told in The Eagle Huntress feels like a surreal cocktail of both. The impressive directorial debut by newcomer Otto Bell, the doco was the darling of last year's festival circuit. And while Bell may be green, he did manage to nab Star Wars star Daisy Ridley as both narrator and executive producer, so already his film has credentials.
The documentary follows Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a very impressive 13-year-old Kazakh girl living in the severe Altai mountains in Mongolia. Her family are nomadic, travelling across the mountains and living on the land. As we're gradually introduced to her school, her friends and her responsibilities, we gain fascinating insight into the thoughts and experiences of a teenage girl in Mongolia. This alone would have made a unique documentary.
But when Aisholpan gets home from school, she gears up and rides a horse out into the mountains with her father, where she trains golden eagles. With wingspans of up to 2.3 meters, the magnificent birds are used to hunt hares, foxes and even wolves. Aisholpan is in training to compete in the Golden Eagle Festival, an annual festival in the town of Olgii. There are seven generations of eagle hunters in her family, and her father is a two-time champion at the festival. She's the first woman to compete, and has every intention of being the first woman to win as well.
The main tension in the film comes from the stinky old men who claim women can't be eagle hunters because of deeply entrenched, culturally reinforced sexism (and probably something about eagles smelling menstruation. Aisholpan faces an uphill battle with this one). The Eagle Huntress feels like both a documentary and a feature film, with one foot firmly in each camp. The stunning cinematography heightens the sense of drama, while candid interviews and Aisholpan's capriciousness keeps things feeling real.
Bell's narrative approach can at times be a little jolting. We're conditioned to expect a certain amount of reminiscing and recapping, as most docos deal with the past and not the present. Still, all will be forgiven as you're swept up in the drama, the scenery and the determination of the plucky young girl at the film's centre.