Why The Eagle Huntress is 2016's most feminist film
“I thought I was going to make this movie all about female empowerment,” says director Otto Bell, ruefully. “Instead it’s this film about a girl and her dad.”
Otto Bell, a young filmmaker who left for Mongolia on a whim to make his first feature, is being hard on himself. The Eagle Huntress, a documentary about a thirteen year old female hunter, Aisholpan, is 2016’s most feminist film. You will watch it, man or woman, and you will want your daughters, god-daughters, nieces, any girl who ever had any kind of dream, to watch it. However, Bell is right in that the most moving part of The Eagle Huntress is watching the rosy-cheeked, sunny-natured Aisholpan battle imperturbably to become the first female eagle hunter in twelve generations of her family, backed by her father, Nurgaiv. If Mongolia had a Dad of the Year prize, Nurgaiv should win it.
The Eagle Huntress, a documentary about a thirteen year old female hunter, Aisholpan, is 2016’s most feminist film. You will watch it, man or woman, and you will want your daughters, god-daughters, nieces, any girl who ever had any kind of dream, to watch it.
“Without his support, it would have been much harder for her,” Bell admits, “and he shields her from the worst of the derision from the tribe elders. He just sees her talent and wants to help her.”
Aisholpan is a thirteen year old who paints her nails and puts bows in her pigtails, but put an eagle on her arm and she becomes the daughter of Genghis Khan, laying waste to the Steppes, where her family have been nomads for thousands of years. She wants to be a surgeon by day, an eagle huntress at the weekend. Bell recalls how after tracking the family down in Mongolia– not easy, as they’re nomads – Nurgaiv casually asked, ‘we’re off to get an eagle for Aisholpan, is that the kind of thing you want to film?’
“Getting an eagle involved Aisholpan climbing down a sheer rock on a single length of rope to steal an eaglet from its mother’s nest,” Bell remembers.
That made the final edit, as does Aisholpan becoming the first female to ever enter the region’s eagle hunting festival, plus riding the icy steppes in midwinter with her father, so her eaglet, named ‘White Wings’ can make its first wild kill.
“There’s a great deal more acceptance for Aisholpan now within the community, they can see she’s the real deal, some of them have been hunting with her. Besides,” he adds, “she’s great for tourism.”
Nearly a year after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie is produced by Morgan Spurlock and Star Wars’s Daisy Ridley (who says she “cried like a child after seeing it”) and has made a million dollars in a month in the USA.
Aisholpan wasn’t totally unknown before this film, as Otto Bell saw her picture, entitled ‘A Thirteen Year Old Eagle Huntress in Mongolia’ on the BBC website, inspiring him to track her down. But nearly a year after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the movie is produced by Morgan Spurlock and Star Wars’s Daisy Ridley (who says she “cried like a child after seeing it”) and has made a million dollars in a month in the USA. Can Aisholpan really be the same girl?
“There’s now enough money for her to study medicine wherever she likes in the world,” Otto Bell says, “and I think her father bought a second hand truck. They came to New York and LA, but I don’t exactly think she’s going to move to Hollywood.
"When I see kids being inspired by her, I know she’s the right kind of celebrity – she’s cheered for her accomplishments.”
“But with all the poisonous’ locker room talk’ that is going on, I am so glad the film is out now. I’d like to see the film shown in schools twenty years from now – for boys as well as girls, just to show what you can achieve if you put your mind to it. When I see kids being inspired by her, I know she’s the right kind of celebrity – she’s cheered for her accomplishments.”
And as The Eagle Huntress will show, Aisholpan ultimately had little need to participate in the film, or for public approbation. “ I don’t end the film on a public fanfare,” Otto Bell explains. “You’ll see. Ultimately all this ever was to Aisholpan was about going hunting with her Dad.”
The Eagle Huntress has a limited cinema release in the USA. It’s released in the UK on December 16. Please see imdb.com for other cinema release dates. VOD details to be announced.
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