THE EAGLE HUNTRESS WILL LEAVE YOU SOARING

Do you ever get the feeling you’re soaring so high like you’re on Aladdin’s carpet ride? Your insides toastier than a Hampstead Heath pub fire…Your heart melted into a pool of fuzzy felt?

Yeah…me neither. Then I watched The Eagle Huntress.

Mongolian Eagle Huntress

2016’s has been a bit pooey, or for want of a better phrase, el crappo. Yes, whether the year took the shape of a writhing demon or an evil smiling poo emoji, it certainly ’twas not our friend.

Thankfully, as the age-old saying goes, it ain’t all bad…

Otto Bell’s debut film ‘The Eagle Huntress’ blasts away these bad vibes with a documentary so inspiring, so heart-warming, even the Ice Queen would crack a smile. It’s a film which inspires hope, positivity and the courage needed to rise above tough times.

‘The Eagle Huntress’ tells the story of 13-year old Aisholpan, the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family to train and become an eagle huntress. In Mongolia, this male-dominated tradition has always been handed down from father to son…until now.

As you can imagine, the elders of the golden eagle hunting community have a lot to say about this break from tradition and it ain’t pretty. Their reasons for females not taking to the helm ranges from girls getting too cold, to their bodies being too frail or simply that they have to marry and settle down (nice to hear husbands are immune to this…).

Aisholpan’s father, Nurgaiv and her mother, Almagul, defy this. They are strong believers both sexes are equal. Nurgaiv believes Aisholpan shows extraordinary bravery, skill and strength, comically remarking it’s in a league above most men’s own.

Aisholpan spends her weekdays at school where she’s a good student and enjoys hanging out with her tight-knit group of friends. She reveals she would love to become a doctor one day – but first and foremost, her heart is set on eagle hunting.

Her weekends are spent by her father’s side roaming the great outdoors, tending to cattle and helping out with manual labour. Once Aisholpan decides she wants to enter that year’s Golden Eagle Festival, their time together becomes centred around training, as her father imparts years of knowledge and hunting experience to her.

As the film progresses we become equally enamoured by the father and daughter bond, founded on the deepest admiration and respect for one another. Aishoplan’s eagerness to master eagle hunting and Nurgaiv’s fatherly pride at her natural ability are something very beautiful to behold.

From the moment Aisholpan climbs down a terrifying mountain to take an eaglet from its nest, to the testing times master and eagle try forging a bond, up to the nail-biting Golden Eagle Festival and the make-or-break moment when her eagle attempts its first hunt during the savage Mongolian winter – I was totally captured.

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One of my favourite moments had to be when Aisholpan comes face to face with her male contenders at the Golden Eagle Festival. You can see the sheer bewilderment and disdain slapped across their faces. This round-faced, rosy-cheeked youth with purple painted nails riding into their terrain! As all the contenders sit down for lunch, their indignation over this unthinkable role reversal quietly tickles Aisholpan and her father just as much as it did me. Aisholpan proves they should never rush to judgement of her youthful and feminine visage…both are totally irrelevant, especially when you know how to kick ass.

This is just one of the many times Aisholpan rises above challenges. A lot has to be said about her optimism. If ever Aisholpan’s eagle fails her, she remains calm and encouraging. You see the initial disappointment settle across her face but as soon as her eagle returns to her arm, she’ll tenderly ask if nerves got the better of her. In Bell’s film, we get to see Aisholpan soar and grow as an eagle huntress, just like the young eaglet she raises.

When Bell first discovered Aisholpan in a BBC photo essay and decided to travel to Mongolia to shoot her, he had no idea whether he would end up with five minutes or an hour of footage. The end result? A compelling and heart-warming hour and a half documentary set against the stunning backdrop of the Altai mountains.

Aisholpan’s tale is one of a girl against all odds, making her way in the world. A tale which encourages us to never give up hope in following our dreams, as they really can become our reality. By the end of the film you should be grinning from ear to ear, breathing the same words as her father, ‘you, are, awesome‘.

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