The Eagle Huntress (2016)

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Talking about feminism, this is a lovely example of a story that centres around a girl making her own choices in a conservative, patriarchal culture. Aisholpan is 13 and lives with her parents and younger siblings nearly the Altai mountains in Mongolia. Her father comes from 12 generations of eagle hunters and Aisholpan has inherited his passion. Women don’t become eagle hunters though, they milk the livestock, cook food and, according to the menfolk, “argue over the gifts at a party.”

We follow Aisholpan and her father as she trains with his birds and then catches her own eaglet. The main event on the hunters’ calendar is the Golden Eagle Festival; Aisholpan’s father has won it twice and she has set her heart on competing.

We are immersed within this Kazakh family’s life on the steppes and in the strength of the relationship between father and daughter. Although her parents know of the challenges she will face, they never hesitate in their support of her or assumption that she can be anything she strives to be. The imagery of the landscape, the harshness of the lifestyle and the majesty of the birds is beautifully captured.

There is sometimes a feeling that the structure of the story has been dramatised – the story arc is too neat, the footage too perfectly picturesque, the dialogue too convenient – but the heart of the narrative seems authentic. Aisholpan is an engaging heroine and you can’t help but be caught up in her story and appreciative of the comforts of a privileged life. The eagle festival is a highlight and it is genuinely nail-biting. I kept oscillating between teariness and a broad smile at the drama and emotion of Aisholpan’s quest.

Currently screening in cinemas.

Bechdel test – pass
4 stars

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