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The Most Important Film No One’s Talking About
It’s probably too early to call, but I’m going to go ahead and say that this movie is going to be among the most important films, if not the most important film released this year. Narrated by Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), and produced by, among others, Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me), Otto Bell has conjured a magical directorial debut. The Eagle Huntress follows the journey of Aisholpan, a 13 year old Kazakh girl hoping to follow in her father’s footsteps and compete in annual eagle hunting competitions. However, in Mongolia, like many places worldwide, there is a deep-seated culture of keeping women in a narrowly defined place in society. (To paraphrase The Hangover: Women hunting with eagles is not illegal, but it is frowned upon.)
Anyone, especially anyone with a child, and ESPECIALLY anyone with a daughter, will immediately recognize how special Aisholpan is. She doesn’t seem to be aware of the disapproving culture around her; the innocence is heartbreaking. In modern cinema, it’s often difficult to find a role model as pure of purpose and character as this young huntress. Yet this film is blessed with another: her father, Nurgaiv. At each turn, he calmly guides and nurtures his daughter’s interest. Like a gardener, he does only what’s necessary to make sure Aisholpan blossoms, though given the task it would be just as easy to smother, worry, and inadvertently stunt her development. Unlike his daughter, he and the viewer fully understands what she represents and how he has made his family complicit in an unprecedented societal taboo. Her learning process is intercut with tribal elders telling the camera why it’s wrong for a girl to be involved in such a thing; how they are weak; how they get too cold when it’s actually time to hunt. You can’t help but cheer the heroine on if only to make these old men eat their words. The apparent climactic scene, with Aisholpan making her competitive debut, is alone worth the price of admission. But luckily for the audience there’s still a bit more for her to do afterward: her first real fox hunt.
Set in the barren steppe foothills of the Altai Mountains, a range that passes through a confluence of four countries and even more cultures, you can feel the chill and the hard ground under their feet. Many shots seem eerily familiar to anyone who has grown up in Central Washington among its snow-blanketed sage. Bell’s cinematography is gorgeous. Quiet family moments are given space to breathe, while action and establishing shots are given the reverence they deserve. It’s intoxicating to watch a people living in 2017 who still have such a direct tie to the forces of nature.
This would be a must see based on either the impressive cinematography or the quality of the subject matter alone. With both in spades, The Eagle Huntress has earned a spot among the best documentaries of all time. Go see it before it’s left theatres.
And please bring your daughter.
Thayne Jongeward is a Yakima photographer and Denizen cofounder who's raising an amazing daughter while wondering daily why he assigned himself so much writing homework.