In a rural area of Mongolia where gender stereotypes about boys and girls haven't changed in hundreds of years, 13-year-old Aisholpan, the subject of the new documentary film The Eagle Huntress, stands out as an exception. Her incredible story about wanting to become the first female eagle hunter in her family gives the movie, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, a natural arc.
Aisholpan, who has a particularly close relationship with her eagle hunter father, picks up a few tips from the guy when she can. He teaches her to hold her arm out, so the eagle can launch itself and then hunt for prey. It requires a certain amount of upper body strength, and her father tells her that many grown men struggle to master the task. Once she masters a number of eagle hunting tasks, her father determines it's time to adopt her very own eagle, which she must swipe from a nest. So she and her father find an eagle's nest perched in a particularly precarious crevice. He helps her climb to the nest and abduct a bird by wrapping it in a rug. She begins working with the bird, developing the kind of bond that exists between a dog and its owner.
At this point, Aisholpan and her father begin rigorous training for the Golden Eagle Festival, a competition that involves 70 of the best Mongolian eagle hunters. To get to the event, Aisholpan and her father must travel across expanses of barren wasteland. At the festival, Aisholpan competes against veteran eagle hunters, most of whom look to be at least twice her age and all of whom are male.
Once the competition ends, Aisholpan must fulfill one more task in her journey to become a true eagle hunter. She and her eagle must successfully hunt a fox in the wild, and they endure frigid temperatures as they venture deep into the Mongolian wilderness on their hunting expedition.
Narrated by Star Wars' Daisy Ridley, the film makes the most of the story's gender dynamics and casts Aisholpan's story in a feminist light. Set in the Mongolian steppe, the movie also makes the most of its exotic setting thanks to some stellar cinematography.