The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in 12 generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter, and rises to the pinnacle of a tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries.
Set against the breathtaking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, The Eagle Huntress features some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography ever captured in a documentary, giving this intimate tale of a young girl's quest the dramatic force of an epic narrative film.
'The Eagle Huntress' is a special kind of inspiration. A story about perseverance, overcoming discrimination, and deciding to push on with your dreams no matter what anyone thinks about you.
Aisholpan Nurgaiv is a young woman living in Mongolia. This documentary follows her and her family who live as nomads – in tents in the summer, in house in the winter. Her family is poor, but happy. Her father, Rys Nurgaiv, is an eagle hunter. Aisholpan wants to follow in her father's footsteps.
Eagle hunting is a generational skill passed on from fathers to sons. Young eaglets are taken from nests and raised by people like Rys. In turn they train the eagles, who become lifelong partners. They use the eagles to hunt foxes. It's a way of life, and a highly regarded occupation.
So far the practice, and the festival that goes along with it, has been completely dominated by males. Aisholpan's father helps her catch an eagle, train it, and take it to the festival of eagle hunters.
There are many aspects of 'The Eagle Huntress' to highlight. First and foremost, is the tenacity of Aisholpan to never give up. She's determined to reach a goal and she'll do anything to get there. She's tearing down the patriarchy.
Something that goes underreported about this lovely story is the caring provided by Rys. Here's a man, who's been steeped in this male-only tradition, but never questions his daughter when she wants to learn. Perhaps Rys could've been like all the other tribal elders who bemoan Aisholpan's inclusion in their exclusive society, but he doesn't. He could've told her a woman's place is in the kitchen, again, he doesn't. He immediately sets about trying to make his daughter's dreams come true even though every respected eagle hunter is laughing behind his back. Essentially, he forsakes his closest peers because the happiness of his child is the most important thing to him.
I was taken with 'The Eagle Huntress.' The simplicity of its story doesn't undermine the effectiveness of its message either. It's full of teachable moments. There's a quiet serenity about Aisholpan's relationship with her father. It's a bond that's quite something to watch play out for a short time.
I watched this with my five-year-old son not knowing if he'd be able to follow along since most of it is subtitled save for a few bits of narration from Daisey Ridely. At first he wanted me to read him the words, but then he just told me to stop, so I did.
For the remainder of the movie he sat quietly and watched Aisholpan's journey from loveable outcast to respected eagle huntress. After the movie was over I asked him if he liked it and he nodded his head emphatically and then proceeded to tell me everything that had happened even after I stopped reading the subtitles to him.
This is a documentary that resonates, even with the youngest fans, with its imagery. Words aren't necessary, because the beautiful surroundings and the way the film visually tells its story is everything it needs. Hearing my five-year-old explain the whole plot to me even though he couldn't read the subtitles was quite special. He experienced the narrative visually and soaked up just about every detail. There aren't too many documentaries out there that could achieve something like that.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release from Sony. It's a 50GB Blu-ray that comes in a standard keepcase. As barebones as a release comes.
Sadly, the 1080p transfer of 'The Eagle Huntress' doesn’t quite capture the majesty of the film’s cinematography. I never saw the film in theaters so I’m not sure what it looked like there, but at times the image on this Blu-ray is less than stellar.
Banding, aliasing, and even some blocking persist throughout the film. These sorts of eyesores really take away from the grandeur of the cinematic experience, unfortunately. Detail is soft, colors appear washed out at times. However, there are times where the footage acquires deep clarity and concise detail. The inconsistent nature of the transfer is noticeable.
The times that I was impressed with the transfer include scenes where we get extreme close-ups of the principle characters and their eagles. That’s when detail really shines through. Wider shots are when the softness creeps in along with the unsightly anomalies.
While it's billed as a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, there's not much in the way of an encompassing experience here. As one might suspect with a documentary the soundscape is very front heavy. That's ok though, it's to be expected. Voices are clear and intelligble.
Surround speakers don't get much to work with. There are a few moments where they do shine though. Most notably the festival where people are milling about and eagles are screeching overhead. There are some nice transitions too as eagles fly from the top of a mountain, cawing starts behind and transfers to the front channels pretty seamlessly. Those moments are infrequent though.
For the most part, this is a straight-forward documentary audio mix that doesn't provide much in the way of auditory surprises.
Audio Commentary – A commentary is provided by director Otto Bell. There's some good anecdotes on what it's like filming a documentary on location in a remote place like this and trying to capture the story as it organically unfolds.
Capturing 'The Eagle Huntress' (HD, 10 min.) – Covers a lot of the same stuff Bell covers in his commentary, but in a condensed version.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – The theatrical trailer is included.
A documentary that inspires. One that eschews the talking-head format and instead finds an astonishingly simple tale of bravery and overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles. What a great little film. Too bad the audio and video are just average. This is such a beautifully shot film that it's strange the transfer didn't turn out as well as I would've hoped. That said it's still worth seeing.