The Eagle Huntress
THIS is a story that swoops and soars. We meet Aisholpan, a girl whose family live in Mongolia. She has the interests of any typical 13-year-old – studying at school, drawing, playing with her friends – bar the fact she is going to follow in her family’s tradition of hunting with eagles.
Her father Agalai comes from a long line of folk who capture and tame golden eagles, working with them for seven years before releasing them back into the wild. It’s a tradition dating back 2,000 years – but never before has a daughter been initiated into training and working with the birds.
Her father says he believes everyone is equal – a seemingly enlightened approach compared to some of the other eagle hunters, who pass their skills down solely to the male side of the family. It means she is the first daughter to have been taken out to learn the tricks she will need to pursue the calling – and this gives the film a political edge, making it something more than a wildlife/anthropological documentary.
We follow Aisholpan as she scales down a vertiginous cliff face, dangling on the end of a rope held by her dad, to an eagle’s nest where she plucks a youngster to train. We then follow them as they work towards competing in Mongolia’s annual eagle festival, where her appearance is not altogether welcomed.
This is marvellous storytelling. It is helped enormously by having a mixture of some of the most photogenic scenery in the world – Mongolia has the wow factor – and is inhabited by a wonderful group of humans with an inspiring lifestyle.
The Mongolian people look stunning, from their clothing to their homes, their wind-bitten complexions to the relationship they forge with the harsh conditions they live in. And with the majestic bird that is the focus of the story the director has the perfect set of tools to craft a wonderful story.