While Star Wars: The Force Awakens became one of the biggest box office hits ever when it was released a year ago, it generated plenty of criticism from some corners. Among the more vocal complaints was that Daisy Ridley’s Rey seemed to learn how to use the Force a bit…quickly. It’s fitting, then, that Ridley has signed on as narrator and executive producer of The Eagle Huntress, a documentary with a protagonist who shows her own natural skills in learning the ways of a tradition where women aren’t normally included.
Thirteen-year-old Aisholpan lives in Mongolia, splitting her time between boarding school and the campsite of her nomadic family. Aisholpan’s father, Nurgaiv, comes from a line of eagle hunters – men who catch young eagles and train them to hunt other animals for their meat and fur. Historically, eagle hunters are male – a fact underlined by a recurring group of elders who explain why women can’t and shouldn’t participate. But Aisholpan wants to follow in her father’s footsteps, and Nurgaiv wants to teach her. The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan through a series of events on her path to becoming an eagle huntress, from her capture of an eaglet from a mountainside nest, through her participation in an annual eagle festival, where she’s both the youngest and only female contestant, all to her first winter hunting.
Aisholpan’s story is undeniably inspirational, and watching her disprove the rationalizations by those opposed to women participating in eagle hunting is satisfying. But director Otto Bell’s work doesn’t just capture a solid story. It’s also revelatory in its imagery, with a combination of majestic wide shots and impressively swooping aerial shots that are largely captured via drone-mounted cameras.
Could The Eagle Huntress maybe use a little more drama? Perhaps; the events of the film happen with enough ease that it sometimes doesn’t properly create suspense where it would help. But the lack of surprise is more than compensated by the heartwarming story at its center, and the gorgeousness of the visuals.