One More Glass Ceiling Shattered

The Eagle Huntress

Stars: Aisholpah as herself
Narrator: Daisy Ridley
Director: Otto Bell
Composer: Jeff Peters
Cinematographer: Simon Niblett
Kazakh language (subtitles)
Stacey Reiss Productions
PG rating for scenes of eagles’ hunting
Running Length: 88 minutes

Screened at the Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF) Nov. 10, 2016

Those who keep parakeets, pigeons, parrots or macaw’s as pets think they have conquered creatures with wings. One step upward on the ladder is falconry, or the sport of the rich and famous and how adventuresome to ride on a stallion holding a small bird on your wrist.  Well, think again, because on the steppes of Mongolia are tribes of nomads who have used the Golden Eagle (now that is a big bird) to hunt. This sport goes back almost a thousand years. Riding at full gallop holding a large eagle on your wrist is not for the faint-hearted. This was a sport for men...until now.

Aisholpan, (playing herself) is thirteen years old and the daughter of a master eagle hunter and trainer. She literally lives and breathes the sport and her father teaches her a few things about the birds. Not quite realizing that the girl wants to be an Eagle Hunter, and it is in her heart to do so. He sees she can do this and that birds respond to her, so she gets the blessing of the patriarch of their tribe and away Dad and daughter go. First, it is capture a small eagle from the nest before Mom comes back (harrowing experience on film). Then, hand feed the bird to tame it and keep it calm, pet it as a mother bird would and in general, be Mom to a baby eagle. Time passes and the girl and Dad begin to train the eagle to hunt small game such as rabbits. Training is done by sounds and certain sounds mean take off or come back to me. Eventually, Aisholpan wants to enter the famous Eagle Contest of several tribes, but no female has ever entered before. You can guess the astonishment as she rides in, dressed in a beautiful outfit, and complete with eagle ready for the contest. The glass ceiling is starting to crack.

First of all, this  film is beautifully photographed by Simon Niblett. It takes the audience into the mountains in winter, and you feel the cold, too. Second, Jeff Peters’ soundtrack accompanies the scenes well. Third, Aisholpan has such camera presence with a winning smile, that you can't take your eyes off her. Not only on the hunt, but with her family and also at her boarding school, where you see the educational system for nomad children whose parents periodically move. Aisholpan lives in two worlds. That of today with bright western-style clothes and rock music and the Old World, of tradition
and living in a land of stone, snow and ice.  Various cultures, also, have used animals for hunting or transportation or food, such as dogs in Alaska. But using birds is rare, indeed.

“The Eagle Huntress” is a look into another world. When we see our Bald Eagle, once hunted for feathers and now protected by law, who would think to tame one. But in other cultures, this is a mastery of  something that soars beyond sight and then comes back to sit on your wrist. Which means the trainer must be muscular and not afraid to hold this bird. Training an eagle is challenging and requires time and patience. Trust is built, layer upon layer. Methinks Oscar nomination time is coming for this film.

*Note: The eagles are kept for seven years and then allowed back into their mountain region. They would have little fear of humans, and can hunt for themselves.


Copyright 2016 Marie Asner