“You were as brave as any man. You really showed that nest who’s boss!”
Eagle hunting has been a tradition in parts of the world for two thousand years. It is an activity for men, whilst women prepare ‘the tea and water’ as one tribal elder explains. And yet 13 year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv is fiercely determined to follow in her father and elder brother’s footsteps . Otto Bell’s documentary follows Aisholpan on her journey – from stealing her eagle from a nest to competing in the annual Eagle Festival.
The film is littered with truly jaw-dropping moments as Aisholpan risks life and limb with ease. Such moments are shot with great beauty and skill – and on a very tight budget as Bell admitted during the Q&A, although this is truly unnoticeable during the film. The cinematography shows the remote Monolgian mountainside backdrop of Aisholpan’s quest to be both a place to be both bracingly barren yet breathtakingly beautiful. It’s also a must-see documentary for those currently loving BBC’s Planet Earth as the eagles are shot with soaring elegance and their deep connections with humans are portrayed so well. It is never forgotten that they, like the landscape, whilst beautiful are capable of great power and peril.
But perhaps the most incredible thing about the documentary is the sense of female empowerment. Aisholpan’s posesses a level of steely grit and determination that is almost belied by her exceptionally merry angelic-looking face. She may not say a lot but she doesn’t need to as her drive and intrinsic motivation is unquestionable and unwaverable. Whilst most of those around her seem to doubt or wholeheartedly disapprove she does not let that stop her and proves herself to be just as, actually even more than, capable than her male counterparts.
In this regard her dad and her relationship with him is the other star of the documentary. His support of her is never undermined or doubted because of her gender, he feels that the family tradition of eagle hunting flows in her veins. To him it does not matter that she isn’t male, what matters is that she possess a natural talent and aptitude for a tradition that has previously been unaccepting of female participants. His pride at each and every one of her achievements shines through, adding to the truly feel-good factor this film has in spades.
A powerful delight to watch both visually and emotionally. Few documentaries are this riveting or affecting.
Review written after attending preview screening and Q&A at Picturehouse Central on December 4th. Released in UK cinemas on December 16th.
Dir: Otto Bell
Year: 2016 Run time:86 minutes