‘The Eagle Huntress’ DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Girl Power on the Altai Mountains

Image via Sony Pictures Releasing Australia

Documentary The Eagle Huntress is directed and produced by Otto Bell and tells the story of Aisholpan, a fearless 13-year-old girl from the mountains of Mongolia. Narrated and executive produced by Star Wars: The Force Awakens actress Daisy Ridley, the film beautifully documents Aisholpan’s desire to follow in her father’s footsteps and become the first female eagle huntress, a tradition of deep significance in Kazakh-Mongolian culture, dating back 2000 years.

Using phenomenal landscape footage and panning shots of snow-covered peaks and pristine blue skies, Bell gives stunning visual context and beautifully captures the vastness of the majestic Altai Mountains. Upon meeting Aisholpan and her family, audiences are immediately transported to a world in which tradition reigns and modernity has not yet entered. It is a world in which women have a place in the home and men are the hunters and providers. Despite the fact that a girl entering the daring world of eagle hunting goes against the grain, Aisholpan’s parents wholeheartedly support her dream and her father begins to train his daughter with her own eagle.

Aisholpan is a refreshing female lead with fantastic presence at such a young age.  Her drive and stoic self-assuredness is captivating, particularly when she remains unperturbed by the archaic thoughts of the respected elders in the Eagle Hunting community who don’t think girls have a place in their world.

Image via Sony Pictures Releasing Australia

It is worth mentioning that Bell blurs the lines between documentary and fiction by manipulating the viewer’s emotions through scenes and conversations that appear almost staged, which in turn takes away from the more organic moments and genuine relationships between Aisholpan and her family. However, there is an undeniable feel-good message surrounding The Eagle Huntress, which preaches girl power and communicates the importance of resilience and strength of character. Aisholpan’s tale of triumph is encapsulated by the somewhat out-of -place pop track by Sia, ‘”Angel by the Wings”, equal parts uplifting and misplaced in this kind of documentary.

While the premise of the documentary is inspirational, The Eagle Huntress lacks story development and conflict. Other than the few short interviews with elders who voice their disapproval of female eagle hunters, there is not much standing in the way of Aisholpan and her dream, with the exception of relentless training and freezing conditions (all of which she is prepared to endure). In this regard, with a lack of obstacles along her way, it seems as though Aisholpan’s potential success can come too easily.

What we have here is a visually suburb documentary that will leave audiences feeling optimistic about gender equality, female representation and the achievability of their own hopes and dreams. And although it’s a little contrived, The Eagle Huntress is also a great example of the endurance and infinitude of the human spirit.