Sunday 19 March 2017

Film Review: The Eagle Huntress

The Eagle Huntress is a 90-minute documentary from English filmmaker Otto Bell about a 13-year-old Mongolian girl called Aisholpan who aspires to become an eagle hunter, an occupation traditionally held by only the fiercest men in her remote community.

Inspired by her father, Aisholpan dreams of following in his footsteps as an eagle hunter. The only problem is, women can't be eagle hunters, or so she is told. Strictly a male profession passed from father to son, Aisholpan and her father are shunned and ridiculed by the wider community for the latter allowing the former to take up the training.

After capturing her own eaglet and setting to work on calling the hunt, Aisholpan sets her sights on the Golden Eagle Festival, an annual occasion where the greatest eagle hunters from across Mongolia gather to test their skills against one another. No girl has ever competed - and she plans to be the first.

Rated G and at only 87 minutes, The Eagle Huntress is the kind of documentary about a far flung land that the whole family can enjoy. With narration provided by executive producer Daisy Ridley (yep, that's Rey from Star Wars), it's the kind of sugary sweet doco that audiences of all ages can stomach, all the while offering a sincere, compelling and uplifting message of female empowerment. Never preachy or saccharine, it's simply an honest straightforward underdog story from the real world that is sold really effectively through well-crafted documentary techniques.

As much as I would love to listen to Daisy Ridley talk all day long (she could read the phonebook and I'd listen), her narration isn't overused, which was nice to see. It's only called upon in transitional scenes to set the stage or to signal a change in direction for the narrative. Most of the actual storytelling is conveyed through subtitled dialogue between Aisholpan, her father and her family.

The only real issue I can pinpoint with Bell's film is the cinematic nature of some of the camerawork; through wide crane and drone shots, it's plain to see that The Eagle Huntress isn't 'raw footage' on most occasions. That doesn't bother me too much as it helps mould the film into an even more emotional and captivating journey. This is honestly one of the most stunning films I've seen in a long time, with long arcing shots that sweep across the icy Mongolian landscape and really capture that aching sense of isolation.

What does count against the film are numerous reports that the documentarian film have skewed the truth regarding Aisholpan's status as the first female to compete in the festival. Even if that isn't technically true, it's undeniable that Bell has woven a compelling narrative in this film; it's simple and straightforward, and even though it promises a clutch of gender issues concerning the community elders, the film is never too confronting or shocking. Most of the time, their outrage at Aisholpan's ambition is framed as dated and out-of-touch, never hateful. Bell's overarching message - one of girl power and following your heart - is easy to follow and (hopefully) relatable for a clutch of younger viewers.

The Verdict: 8/10

Accuracy issues aside, The Eagle Huntress is still super successful in finding a story and sticking to it. It's funny, heartwarming and just an honest to god good tale that is worth seeing.

The Eagle Huntress is in cinemas across Australia now

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