10 Directors to Watch: Otto Bell Braves Mongolian Extremes to Make ‘The Eagle Huntress’

Bell's background in advertising prepared him for a leap into unknown with 'The Eagle Huntress'

otto bell the eagle huntress
bell: pia torelli/SIPA/newscom

Bell’s year just keeps getting better. His debut film, The Eagle Huntress,” was selected by Sundance, traveled the world, and was recently named to the Oscar documentary feature shortlist. Set against the spectacular backdrop of Mongolia’s Altai Mountains, the Sony Pictures Classics release tells the inspiring story of 13-year-old Aisholpan, who challenges an ancient, male-dominated tradition by training, competing, and hunting with an eagle. This entertaining, real-life adventure tale sold to most major territories and is being remade as an animated feature at 20th Century Fox; Bell will serve as a producer.

The English director was born into a Northumberland farming family and grew up loving the outdoors. But, he says, “Sunday afternoons were always given over to films, mostly Westerns and the classics. I ate them all up.” He earned a scholarship to Oxford, where he studied English literature, which, he notes, “helped cement my lifelong love of storytelling and narrative structure.”

After university, Bell wound up as an advertising creative director. He says, “I eventually landed at Ogilvy in New York where I helped set up their entertainment division. It’s there that I started producing and directing short documentary-style films for blue-chip brands like IBM and Philips. I’m very grateful for that decade in advertising, it made me a more precise director and taught me how to squeeze high production standards out of limited budgets.”

The extreme physical and logistical challenges of capturing Aisholpan’s story didn’t faze this tough northerner. “I’ve always gone wherever the story is: Vietnam, Uganda, Siberia, Patagonia, wherever. I relish a stellar backdrop and sympathizing with a real place and actual people.”

What’s next for the intrepid Bell? “Well, I’m really proud of Courageous, the filmmaking team I’ve built at CNN, but I’m keen to direct a narrative feature next. To that end, I’ve started looking at scripts. That would be a happy culmination of all my experience structuring storylines.”

Age: 35
Influences: Ridley and Tony Scott. “They’re from the same part of England as me and have always been my hometown heroes.”
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