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December 2, 2021

Cinema Review: The Eagle Huntress

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The things that you’ve never heard about… high on the treeless steppes of Kazakhstan, the tradition of capturing and training golden eagles to be then be used for hunting has survived for time out of mind. Typically, it is strictly a bloke thing – or it had been. This astonishing, uplifting and beautifully shot doco is about a young girl, Aisholpan, and her triumph in breaking into that male reserve. As a thirteen-year-old, cherub-cheeked Aisholpan was nurtured in the craft by her father, Rys Nurgaiv, himself a prize-winning eagle hunter. To take the next step towards fulfilling her dream, she needs to capture and raise her own bird (weighing up to fifteen pounds, they live in their owners’ yurts, along with the rest of the family). Which she does – taking a fledgling from its nest high on a craggy aerie. This sequence is filmed from many angles, so the immediacy and rawness of ‘cinema verité’ is sacrificed, but you get the impression that writer/director Otto Bell has striven for an effect more akin to ‘faction’ than fly-on-the-wall observation. If that is the case, it works a treat throughout. From the festival at which Aisholpan competes with hunters from far and wide to the toughest test of all, when she takes her bird into the wild to hunt fox, it is never pretended that the camera is not there. Certainly Aisholpan is aware of it, and, with a winning smile and honest naiveté, she is a natural before it. The edit is smoothly structured, giving equal time to the politics of Aisholpan’s endeavour – the old codgers of the clique don’t like the idea of her presence among them at all – the loving relationship she has with her dad, who encourages her at every step, saying that ‘girls can do anything that boys can’, and the magnificent eagles. Simon Niblett’s glorious cinematography makes every frame, interior and exterior, a joy to behold in a movie that is relevant in all cultures, upbeat and refreshing.

 


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