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Eagle Huntress, The


Stars: Narrator: Daisy Ridley

Director: Otto Bell

Despite the U certificate given to this spectacular docudrama, parents should be advised that scenes of animals being slaughtered in one way or another are quite red in tooth and claw.

Aisholpan is a sturdy 13-year-old Mongolian girl, living with her family near the Russian, Chinese and Kazakhstan borders. Tall by Mongolian standards and as strong as a mountain pony, she wrestles with boys at school, besting all of them, rubbing it in by beating them at checkers as well.

Her father is a hillside herder, living in primitive huts by summer and a fairly normal house in winter. He hunts foxes for their fur, and other animals for food. He does this with the help of a a trained golden eagle, which catches the prey as he hunts on horseback.

Aisholpan often accompanies him into the mountains and longs to have an eagle of her own. Although girls are never eagle hunters, her father encourages her ambition; together they capture a female eaglet from its nest and train it to obey commands.

The girl proves to have such an empathy with the bird that her father agrees to take them both the annual eagle festival, where competitors from far and wide take part. But, whatever the result, Aisholpan will still have to prove herself a real huntress in the snowy and inhospitable mountains to be accepted by her peers.

Despite its appeal, I had some doubts about the authenticity of this beautifully shot film. Aisholpan is not, as is suggested, the first female to become an eagle hunter (although it is still rare), and it's evident that some scenes and characters are staged by the producer-director, who also shot some parts out of sequence, although the thrills of the festival are genuine.

There are also rather too many long-held overhead shots of the arid landscape. But the story is simply, yet wonderfully well told, with beautiful shots of eagles in flight. And, at the heart of it all, the charm and resilience of Aisholpan herself shines memorably through, her moon-round face and rosy cheeks breaking into wonderful smiles when she achieves her goals.

There is some English narration, but the dialogue is mainly in subtitled Kazakh.

David Quinlan

UK/Mongolia/USA 2016. UK Distributor: Altitude. Colour (unspecified).
87 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: U.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 17 Dec 2016