×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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

  • Fox Searchlight logo

    Film News Roundup: Fox Searchlight Launches Searchlight Shorts

    In today’s film news roundup, Fox Searchlight starts a shorts channel, Uma Thurman signs with ICM and Miramax signs animation exec Michael Lachance. SEARCHLIGHT SHORTS More Reviews Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights Fox Searchlight Pictures’ chairmen Nancy Utley and [...]

  • ImMature - cr: MX Player

    Indian Streamers Ramp up Original Productions

    Ever since global streaming giants Amazon Prime Video and Netflix entered the Indian OTT space in 2016, the conversation around original series has mostly revolved around them, thanks in part to market leader 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar’s circumspect attitude at the time about producing content. Netflix had great success with “Sacred Games,” while Amazon rode [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

    Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in Tuesday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers. The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day. More Reviews [...]

  • Village Rockstars

    Female Filmmakers Are a Growing Voice in India

    The Indian film industry has historically been a male-dominated one, but the winds of change are blowing across the country, albeit slowly. Better-served than the rest of the country is the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, where there are several active female filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), Reema Kagti (“Gold”), Leena Yadav (“Rajma Chawal”), Gauri Shinde [...]

  • Florence Pugh

    Scarlett Johansson's 'Black Widow' Movie Adds Florence Pugh

    “Black Widow’s” web may soon be growing. Sources tell Variety that Florence Pugh is in talks to join Scarlett Johansson’s standalone superhero film. More Reviews Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights Pugh has been on the hot list for this [...]

  • Mira Lesmana Sets up Indonesia Remake

    Mira Lesmana Sets Up Indonesian Remake of CJ's 'Sunny'

    Indonesia’s Miles Film and Korea’s CJ Entertainment are to co-produce an Indonesian remake of Korean hit “Sunny.” The film is a female-driven dramedy about a group of adult friends who reunite 20 years after high school. Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, “Sunny” was one of the highest-grossing movies in Korea when it was released in 2011. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content