Sometimes a film sinks into your psyche in a way that you don’t expect.
I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I went to The Civic this past Saturday to watch The Eagle Huntress. I had heard of positive reviews beforehand, but beyond that my impressions on Otto Bell’s latest documentary were nebulous. All of that changed once I sat down to watch the film, and by the end I counted myself among those who were unexpectedly thrilled by what had transpired.
Following Aisholpan, a thirteen year-old girl living in the Altai mountains, The Eagle Huntress tells the story of how she works towards (and succeeds) at becoming an eagle huntress—a traditionally male endeavor. From the opening shot of the movie—a panoramic view of the Altai mountains, set to Mongolian folk music—Otto Bell’s documentary takes your breath away with stunning aerial footage of the central Asian steppes. A windswept, nearly-treeless region full of rolling, ribbed mountains, the Altai are very different from our own rocky vistas here in Nelson. Even still, the ability to draw a connection between the Kootenays and these distant slopes was palpable: a testament to the film’s ability to speak from one reality to another.
Throughout the film we were shown little quirks of Aisholpan’s life: how she commuted to school and stayed overnight in a dormitory, going home on Fridays; how she loved hair bows and purple nail polish and golden eagles all at once. These details helped underscore the ordinariness of her life, and it was this juxtaposition between the ordinary and the momentous that tugged on my heartstrings in a way that I hadn’t foreseen: this narrative of hope and perseverance where I was actively rooting for Aisholpan’s success. Although the practice of eagle hunting was patrilineal, Aisholpan was undeterred. And—as it became clear throughout the progression of the film—her inner strength and raw skill was the result of careful nurturing and a forward-thinking attitude by her father and mother, Rys Nurgaiv and Alma Dalaykan. Declaring that a girl could do anything that a boy could, The Eagle Huntress was one of the top feel-good movies of the year, and the kind of documentary film that I can’t wait to see more of in Nelson.
~ Shianne Edelmayer is a freelance illustrator and writer based in Nelson, BC