To see a heartening example of affectionate parents encouraging their daughter to develop her talents even if it flies in the face of masculine tradition, we need look no farther than Mongolia! That’s where “The Eagle Huntress,” a grin-inducing documentary by first-time filmmaker Otto Bell, introduces us to Aisholpan, a happy 13-year-old who idolizes her father and wants to follow in his footsteps as an eagle hunter (someone who hunts with eagles, not who hunts eagles).
This ancient tradition, necessary for survival and (like most forms of hunting) a competitive sport, has always been men-only. Given that our film is set in what we presume is a backwards part of the world among people who we would guess are not very progressive in their thinking, we brace ourselves for the backlash against Aisholpan.
But guess what: her father, her mother, and even her eagle-hunter grandfather don’t care. Aisholpan would be their people’s first female eagle hunter, not to mention one of its youngest – but they see no reason why that should discourage her from doing it. The stern village elders aren’t as open to the idea, and a montage of them citing the usual sexist reasons for their disapproval is pointedly funny, but they make no effort to stop her.
Like a Hollywood underdog story, the film is edited and scored with an eye for drama and humor as Aisholpan and her dad capture an eaglet (a daring, breathless mission in itself), practice for the regional competition, and ultimately go hunting for real. Bell showcases the harsh natural beauty of western Mongolia and conveys the rigors of eagle hunting, but his main focus is a young girl’s blissful empowerment under the tutelage of her proud daddy. You’ll be proud, too.
B+ (1 hr., 27 min.; mostly in Kazakh with subtitles, plus some English narration (by Daisy Ridley); )