FILM REVIEW: The Eagle Huntress (2016)

The Eagle Huntress is a documentary about a young Kazakh girl, Aisholpan, who wants to follow her father in the family tradition – eagle hunting.

However that’s not the real story. The heart and soul of this film is the total love and absolute trust between father and daughter. He supports her dreams and is proud of her. She will never let him down if she can.

The definition of “eagle hunting” means using the magnificent raptors to hunt small animals like rabbits and foxes. If you have problems with raw meat or the wearing of fur, don’t buy a ticket.

13 year-old Aisholpan spends her week in a boarding school also attended by her younger sister and brother. She is a straight-A student, and popular. Often, she goes home to help her nomadic family with their cattle and horses.

When Aisholpan says she wants to become an eagle hunter, her father doesn’t stand in her way. He has won twice at the eagle festival so he has the experience to teach his daughter. The family knows that that is what she wants and it’s her path.

Her mother just wants, “my daughter to love her life.”

Her father takes her to the mountains to catch her own eaglet. She climbs down steep rocks with her father holding the rope to keep her safe, catches the female eaglet, then brings it home to train.

Her opposition is the elders in the eagle hunting community. One observes, “women are weaker and more fragile” as a reason to disapprove of her ambitions.

Aisholpan may be an eagle hunter but she’s also a teenage girl. The day before the eagle festival she clumsily applies pink fingernail polish. When in the city, she tries on a pink crystal bow and smiles. But, at the festival, she’s all business – and hope.

The men she faces in the competition are startled by her presence but they congratulate her accomplishments. “May our offspring be like her,” cries the crowd.

The elders are nonplussed when she succeeds so well during the festival, but snipe that she’s not a “real” hunter until she’s gone into the snow-covered mountains to hunt. So she and her father go hunting.

Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) narrates the film and is also an executive producer. Pop star Sia sings on the soundtrack.

Aisholpan’s father’s attitude all the way through is that there are no barriers to her horizons. He says at one point, “I think boys and girls are equal.”

Beside the story, the other star of The Eagle Huntress is the cinematography. It is a beautifully filmed movie with crystal clear images of stunning beauty. I suspect that the filmmakers had their hearts in their mouths during some scenes, notably the ride across the frozen river with the horses slipping on the ice. The filming was often done in conditions that froze their fingers. The images are incredibly stunning including the last eagle-fox battle.

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