Tale of a girl with a dream

Effectively stirring and bolstered by thrilling visuals, The Eagle Huntress uses its heartwarming message to fill up a feature that might have made for an even more powerful short film.
Set against the breath-taking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, The Eagle Huntress features some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography ever captured in a documentary, giving this intimate tale of a young girl’s quest the dramatic force of an epic narrative film. While there are many old Kazakh eagle hunters who vehemently reject the idea of any female taking part in their ancient tradition, Aisholpan’s father Nurgaiv believes that a girl can do anything a boy can, as long as she’s determined.
The 87-minute documentary is worthy, but there’s a battle not very deep beneath its surface.
When The Eagle Huntress begins, 13-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv is a girl with a dream: to become the first female in her Kazakh family to hunt foxes using a trained eagle. It’s a generations-old tradition her father Rys and his father before him have kept alive, and though custom usually dictates that boys are trained in the field, that won’t stop this eager student from pursuing her passion.
So it is that she hones the skills required, captures an eaglet, readies her bird for the task, and sets out to show her prowess first at Mongolia’s annual Golden Eagle Festival, and then out in the wild. By virtue of the fact that her tale has been captured on film, it’s not difficult to see where Aisholpan’s path is headed. Her can-do quest for achievement is movie’s main drawcard — but the way it has been assembled into a documentary is also its chief problem.
Helming his first film, director Otto Bell happily adheres to a template that’s well worn in factual content, and in staged reality television too.
Narration by Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley sets the scene and intermittently interjects with added information, making plain the broader aim of championing Aisholpan’s battle of the sexes in an arena usually monopolised by men.
The film’s feel-good high is tempered by a bothersome suspicion about where the line between documenting the truth and shaping the truth is drawn. To be clear: There’s no doubt about the veracity of Aisholpan’s inspirational story.
She exists, and she’s a champion in every sense. But many sequences in the film appear planned out, even staged, lessening the thrill if you focus too much on the convenience of the narrative arc or the precision of the beautifully framed shots
It’s a worthy topic teeming with potency and relevance, but Bell never trusts the details to make their own statement. Perhaps that’s due to his fondness for positing that Aisholpan stands out in her desire to become an eagle huntress — complete with vocal opposition from village elders insisting that a woman’s place is to make tea, and doubting that she could withstand cold climes — though other reports claim otherwise.