×

Film Review: ‘The Eagle Huntress’

A 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl breaks a traditional role's gender barrier in this entertaining documentary.

With:
Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Rhys Nurgaiv, Kuksyegyen Almagul, Boshai Dalaikhan. (Kazakh dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3882074/

A gender barrier upheld for hundreds of years falls before the prowess of a 13-year-old girl in the U.S.-produced documentary “The Eagle Huntress.” Otto Bell’s first feature traces its heroine’s quest to become Mongolia’s first female practitioner of the titular skill, in which a wild eagle is trained to hunt game in tandem with its human keeper. A pervasive girl-power message underlined by the “You can do anything” refrain of Sia’s closing pop theme song, this entertaining slice of real-life inspirational adventure should appeal to family audiences not grossed out by brief animal butchery and a fox’s climactic fate. Nonfiction-cinema purists may be less enthralled with content that often feels somewhat staged, and highly manipulated in the editing room.

Cheerful, seemingly fearless Aisholpan Nurgaiv has been fascinated by her father and grandfather’s practice of this traditional hunting method from an early age. They’ve encouraged her interest, even though she spends weekdays at a dormitory away from the nomadic family’s yurt, due to the sparse scattering of available schools in their Altai Mountains region. Even there, she’s a tomboy who excels at athletics as well as academics.

One day her father allows her to capture a golden eagle chick (its considerable size already belying that term) from a cliffside nest. Girl and bird (the latter seems surprisingly agreeable) begin their mutual training, soon competing against some 70 much more experienced men in an annual competition where Nurgaiv is not only the youngest contestant, but also the first-ever female one. Her success there is applauded by most, but grumbled over by a few who still insist a woman’s place is strictly in the home — and that she’s still no true eagle hunter until she’s mastered the more dangerous, arduous and practical task of wintertime hunting. Naturally, her maiden effort at just that comprises the pic’s last act.

It also occasions one genuinely scary if brief sequence, when Nurgaiv and her father have to force their horses through treacherous waist-high snow high in the frozen steppes. Otherwise, there’s not a lot of suspense or conflict to “The Eagle Huntress,” since our heroine seems to easily ace every challenge put before her; the psychological and physical obstacles here seem more constructs of editing (and a mostly conventional, Western orchestral score) than organic observation. The elaborate camerawork (encompassing crane and drone shots) and general high polish suggest that, if not outright manufactured in the tradition of “Nanook of the North,” much of the pic’s drama has been highly shaped by the filmmakers to fit a narrative and thematic agenda.

This is not as bothersome as it might be in a different context: “The Eagle Huntress” clearly aims from the start to spoon-feed viewers of all ages an elemental tale of empowerment. Like Disney’s “True-Life Adventures” of yore, it educates while deploying some likely sleight-of-hand, and doesn’t really invite the kind of methodological scrutiny a more verite-style documentary would. The slick package benefits, of course, from the stark and imposing landscapes of Western Mongolia.

Film Review: 'The Eagle Huntress'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Sundance Kids), Jan. 29, 2016. Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Kissiki Film, 19340 Prods. and Stacey Reiss Prods. production, in association with Artemis Rising Foundation, Impact Partners, Shine Global and Warrior Poets. (International sales: CAA, Los Angeles.) Produced by Stacey Reiss, Sharon Chang, Otto Bell. Executive producers, Morgan Spurlock, Daisy Ridley, Jeremy Chilnick, Dan Cogan, Regina K. Scully, Marc H. Simon, Barbara Dobkin, Susan Maclaury. Co-executive producer, Jenny Raskin. Co-producer, Asher Svidensky.

Crew: Directed by Otto Bell. Camera (color, HD), Simon Niblett; editor, Pierre Takal; music, Jingle Punks, Jeff Peters; sound, Andrew Yarme; supervising sound editor, Lewis Goldstein; re-recording mixers, Goldstein, Tom Ryan.

With: Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Rhys Nurgaiv, Kuksyegyen Almagul, Boshai Dalaikhan. (Kazakh dialogue)

More Film

  • Jennifer Lopez Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez-Owen Wilson Film 'Marry Me' Moves Back to Universal From STX

    The Jennifer Lopez-Owen Wilson romantic comedy “Marry Me” has moved from STX back to its original home, Universal Pictures. STX previously took over the project in April. Kat Coiro is directing from a script written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Colombian singer/rapper Maluma has joined the cast and [...]

  • Austin Butler to Star as Elvis

    Austin Butler to Star as Elvis in Baz Luhrmann's Biopic

    Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic has found its king of rock ‘n’ roll. After numerous screen tests, Austin Butler has been tapped to play Elvis Presley in Luhrmann’s next feature film for Warner Bros. The studio tested with a handful of actors in full hair and make-up at the end of June to see who [...]

  • 'The King's Man' Trailer Debuts With

    'The King's Man' Trailer Showcases Secret Service's Origins

    Disney is promising plenty of sword-fighting, gunplay and devastation in its first teaser trailer for the Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man.” The studio unveiled a first look Monday that sets the stage for an origin story of the private British  intelligence service, portrayed in the two previous films in the franchise: 2014’s “Kingsman: The [...]

  • Emma Stone Damien Chazelle Babylon

    Emma Stone Eyes Damien Chazelle's Next Film 'Babylon'

    “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle is heading back to Hollywood for his next feature film “Babylon,” and Emma Stone is in early talks to star. Sources say Chazelle has met with a handful of suitors over the past couple weeks, and Paramount and Lionsgate are both vying to land the project. While Chazelle previously [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    2019 Imagen Awards Nominations: Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas and More

    Jennifer Lopez and Antonion Banderas are among this year’s Imagen Awards nominees, which span a range of categories including informational programming, on-air advertising, outstanding individual performances and prime time programming in film and television. The Imagen awards were first established in 1985 upon recommendation from TV veteran Normal Lear in an effort to recognize more [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content