Nurgaiv is a thirteen-year-old ethnic Kazakh nomad in Northwest Mongolia, who
became the sort of internet sensation every hipster aspires to be when a
picture of her with her father’s golden eagle went viral. As her eagle-handling
skills developed, she became the first girl to ever compete in the ancient
Golden Eagle Festival. By the way, she is also a straight-A student. Otto Bell
managed to arrive in the Altai Mountains (the most remote, least populated
region in the world) in time to document her hunting milestones in The Eagle Huntress (trailer here), which opens today
in New York.
Aisholpan always had more affinity for her father Nurgaiv Rys’s hunting and
herding than traditional women’s roles. Although he is a devout Muslim, Nurgaiv
is progressive enough to teach his daughter traditional hunting techniques. She
could not ask for a better teacher, considering he twice won the Golden Eagle
Festival and placed highly on several other occasions. Recognizing Aisholpan’s
abilities, Nurgaiv decides it is time to corral a wild eaglet of her own in the
first of the film’s three centerpiece sequences.
Nurgaiv allows the increasingly proficient Aisholpan to enter the annual
contest, despite his understandable fatherly concerns. She is barely a
teenager—and many of the competitors will not welcome her trailblazing
participation. However, the real test of Aisholpan’s rapport with her eagle
will come during their first hunt.
like “inspirational” often inspire kneejerk snark in response, but anyone who
watches Eagle Huntress is
pretty much guaranteed to feel great by the time the closing credits roll.
Aisholpan is a terrific kid, whose charisma absolutely radiates off the screen.
Nurgaiv is also totally cool, giving his daughter exactly the sort of
encouragement she deserves. Even her grandfather is surprisingly hip, offering
his blessing for her eagle hunting training.
soaring eagles and the Altai vistas are as stunning as you could imagine. Yet,
the really exciting thing about the film is the groundbreaking significance of
Aisholpan’s eagle hunting aspirations. It represents open-minded social change
that respects and even strengthens cultural traditions. After all, the
estimated ranks of eagle hunters have dwindled to something in the neighborhood
of 250. Frankly, Aisholpan is exactly what they need.
Huntress screened in Sundance’s kids section, a lot of press and
programmers probably had to play catch-up after Sony Classics swooped it up.
The distributor knew what it was doing, because this doc is going to catch-on
in a huge way. It is just the sort of film that leaves you with a big dopey
grin on your face, so word-of-mouth will be rapturous. This is tremendously
accomplished filmmaking on a technical level, as well as a wonderful trip to
one of the furthest flung corners of the world. Enthusiastically recommended
for mainstream audiences of all ages, The
Eagle Huntress opens today (11/2) in New York, at the Landmark
Sunshine downtown and the Lincoln Plaza uptown.
Labels: Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Documentary, Eagle hunting