The Eagle Huntress (U)

Jan 10, 2018
Cranbrook Film Society

This spellbinding and beautiful docu-drama follows a 13 year old nomadic Mongolian girl and her fight to become the first female eagle-hunter in 12 generations of her Kazakh family. The film captures her personal journey, but also offers powerful insights into the life and culture of the Mongolian people.

Otto Bell | UK/Mongolia/USA | 2016 | 87 mins | U


‘Eagle Huntress’ is a remarkable docu-drama which combines National Geographic style photography with a story-line which feels like a real-life folk tale, with a feminist undertow. Its main character is Aisholpan, a 13-year old girl from a remote Mongolian community who yearns to become an eagle hunter, like her father and his father before him; something which women have never done.
The nomadic tribes rely on the fur and food they catch with the eagles to sustain them through the brutal winters. Aisholpan’s ambitions meet with opposition from the village elders who grumble that women should stay at home, milk the cows and make tea while their men-folk head off on foraging expeditions.
This certainly isn’t purist documentary, but neither was Robert Flaherty’s celebrated ‘Nanook of the North’ in 1922. There are some shots in which director Otto Bell appears to be staging scenes and shaping events. But the cinematography is stunning and the camera-carrying drone gives us a wonderful eagle-eye view of the landscapes below. On the ground the film paints a picture of a traditional community with links to the nearby town, its school and many other more modern conveniences. Aisholpan sometimes appears in a tracksuit, looking like any other girl of her age. Her father owns a motorbike.
The eagles themselves are huge and certainly not pets. We feel for Aisholpan when her bird plunges down from the mountain top to land with a crunch on her padded arm. The director’s achievement is not only to have discovered his subjects but to have won their trust. At times his editing shades into the manipulative to heighten the sense of exoticism. But the director and his crew clearly went to extreme and dangerous lengths themselves, venturing into forbidding terrain to capture their footage. In doing so they’ve managed to make a film which belies its obviously modest budget both in its epic quality and its rugged beauty.
John Badcock

P.S. Adrienne Mayor from Stamford University has written an excellent piece on the history of the nomadic peoples of Mongolia and comments specifically on this film. You may be interested to read it at You could also just search for Adrienne Mayor Eagle Huntress.


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