The logistics of film distribution mean it can take a lot of time and effort to seek out minor releases. I am getting to The Eagle Huntress a month or two after its initial release but, in the UK at least, it can still be found in a few independent screens. And I am glad I did. This documentary about the first girl to be trained in the patriarchal tradition of eagle hunting in Mongolia is an enjoyable and affirmative piece of cinema.
Like many good documentaries, The Eagle Huntress provides an insight into an obscure topic and leaves you just a little bit more enlightened. The scope of the topic is quite narrow but that provides focus. We follow Aisholpan, the daughter of a nomadic family who is going to be trained to hunt with eagles despite the conservative values of the majority of the community. The theme is one of defiant progression, where Aisholpan and her father Rys won’t be cowed by the prevalent opinion that ‘girls can’t do this’.
You feel sorry for any film that doesn’t get to shoot footage in the Mongolian steppes
In some respects, the documentary has an easy time. The topic is interesting, Aisholpan is a charismatic subject, eagles are really majestic, and the sweeping Mongolian landscape steals every scene. How could it not impress? The Eagle Huntress combines the best aspects of an ‘inspiring true story’ narrative with a David Attenborough documentary – here Daisy Ridley provides the dignified narration.
There’s some wry editing too when the focus shifts to interviews with the established elders of the eagle hunting community. The directors decided to give a voice to the conservative opposition to our heroine but they also have fun dwelling on the pauses and naked nonsense that their bigotry is founded upon. They are ultimately hung on their own petards.
Could have done without the pop-feminist anthem that overlays some of the drama
If there was one element that I felt was incongruous, it was the music. Though we have little interjections from Mongolian musical traditions, the majority of the accompaniment is the ululations of Sia from the track Angel by the Wings. It’s a rather trite form of oo-ing, ahh-ing and crooning that sounds like a parody of what inspiring music should sound like. Perhaps I am being stuffy in thinking the film should have been given over to Mongolian throat-singing or another native tradition, but when Sia starts bleating ‘You can do anything’ over the end credits it was more than a little on the nose. The subject matter was affirmative enough in its own right. You don’t need to tell us to feel inspired.
If the worst I can say about the film though is that it’s got too much of this darned modern music that those pesky kids like, it speaks to The Eagle Huntress’ quality. It may still be hard to seek out in cinemas but if you can find a screening, do give it a go. In this day and age, you’ve got to support films like this.
Verdict: The Eagle Huntress is firmly and passionately flying the feminist flag. Also, eagles!