Editor's note: Nearly a week after its publication, SFR learned that there are indeed other female eagle hunters, and that the marketing for this film may have glossed over that fact. Still, Aisholpan is extremely cool.
Forget Frozen. Just let it go. And ditch your heartbreak-turned-fury over the role sexism likely played in the recent presidential election. Instead, let your thrill for a 13-year-old Mongolian girl named Aisholpan Nurgaiv soar above the ice-covered steppes of Mongolia in The Eagle Huntress, which has to be the girl-power movie of the year. The new Sony Pictures Classics documentary, narrated by Star Wars newcomer Daisy Ridley, tells the story of the traditional hunting bond between golden eagles and men from the Kazakh, a nomadic tribe that’s been around since before the days of Genghis Khan. But more than that, it’s how this young girl breaks the glass ceiling between verdant expanses and craggy mountains.
You see, like being president of the United States, eagle hunting in Mongolia is just for men. And, boy howdy, even if you stopped reading the subtitles for a few minutes, you’d know how the men interviewed for the film really feel about Aisholpan’s interloping on their sausage fest. Women are weak; they don’t have the courage to hold the bird; they should stay home and make tea for the hunters.
Her father, to be congratulated on his forward thinking and bold dedication to his daughter, sees past the gender barrier. “It’s not choice,” he explains, “it’s a calling that has to be in your blood.”
And it’s in hers. Aisholpan thus shows no fear, strapping on her fur-lined hat and trotting into town on her sturdy horse, arm extended as it becomes a perch for the avian predator. The bird’s wingspan is wider than she is tall, dwarfing the ruddy-cheeked girl with each restless flap. She pets its head as if it were a house cat, talking all the while with praise and comfort. Oh, and by the way—she had to rappel down a cliff side and snatch the eaglet from its nest. Then months of training. No bigs.
What majestic footage: the grace of the powerful wings alighting from the edge of the mountain, the expressions on the old dudes’ faces as she earns perfect scores at the region’s annual eagle festival as the youngest competitor and the first-ever female. It is a trip for the imagination to look inside yurts and back to stone goat enclosures, across barren snowscapes and through villages with stumpy homes and smoky corridors. See too the textures of the textiles, the steam from the mouths of beasts, and the expressive faces not just of the starring eagles, but the scruffy horses and bleating lambs.
We dare you to watch impassively as father and daughter ride off together after Aisholpan passes the ultimate test of recognition for a hunter: catching a fox in the snowy mountains.
The Eagle Huntress is a great winter movie that stands to touch the coldest chambers of heart with fierce inspiration. Grab it with your talons.
The Eagle Huntress
Directed by Otto Bell