Monday, January 16, 2017

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016): From the Other Side of the World

The subject matter of The Eagle Huntress is about as foreign and strange in 21st Century America as is possible.   In the western world, our concerns revolve around Russian hacking and virtual reality.  At least for one 13-year-old Mongolian girl, her interest is to become the first female to take part in a tradition that goes back many centuries.  Aisholpan Nurgaiv wishes to raise and train an eagle, with the help of her father, and take part in a foxhunt up until.  Until her arrival, this was an activity reserved for males who were mostly adults.

Aisholpan does not disappoint us.  First, in the provincial Mongolian capital of Olgii, Aisholpan wins a contest against seventy seasoned eagle hunters demonstrating both her skills and the skills of the eagle she trained.  She next accompanies her father alone into the Mongolian mountains where her and her eagle capture and kills a fox.  This adventure takes place over a number of weeks, and temperatures in the wilderness fall to some forty degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Though these are the highlights of this 87-minute film, there is so much more to recommend this movie.  Through the use of drones to film the training and hunting scenes we receive breathless footage of the Mongolian terrain.  The cameras film Aisholpan and her father riding horses across the country while training the eagle and while pursuing the fox.  We watch the eagle sore from perch to perch.  We see the strength and agility of Aisholpan herself as she perseveres in her quest.

We sense almost immediately in the documentary that neither Aisholpan nor her father, Rys Nurgaiv, are ordinary individuals.  Tradition does not hold them back.  Most of the eagle hunters throughout the countryside do not feel that Aisholpan’s pursuits are the place for a girl – especially a girl as young as she is.

Aisholpan  does not come from a wealthy family.  They live in a small home a long ways away from the closest city.  Aisholpan and her brothers and sisters have to attend school many miles away from home.  This means they are usually only at home on weekends. 

Aisholpan, we learn, is so physically strong that she can beat all the boys in her class at wrestling.   Yet she has many of the same interests as other adolescent girls.  Aisholpan paints her nails like that of the other girls and struggles with her math lessons.  She does her best to help with household chores and she appears to be very close to her brothers and sisters.  We never sense arrogance in Aisholpan regarding her accomplishments.  At all times throughout the film, Aisholpan remains charming and likeable.

This was director Otto Bell’s first movie.   In some ways, The Eagle Huntress comes together a bit too easily.  We’re never quite sure how a film crew could have known that Aisholpan would persevere in her quest.  It would have been helpful to learn how Bell stumbled upon this subject matter.

Yet Aisholpan still seems to me to be a special girl.  Obviously, without modern technology her story would remain untold.  Still, here is a girl who does not rely upon this technology when traveling out into an extremely unforgiving terrain and accomplishing what she has to accomplish.  In this respect, her relationship with nature and the world make this movie almost timeless.  The Eagle Huntress is certainly a great deal more refreshing than endless sequels or films held together only by special effects.

January 16, 2017 

©  Robert S. Miller 2017