The Eagle Huntress, film review


This video says about itself:

The Eagle Huntress Featurette – Soaring Cinematography (2016) – Documentary

Directed By: Otto Bell

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.

On 18 June 2017, I saw this worthwhile film, recorded in the Altai mountains in the west of Mongolia.

There are many reviews of it; very positive ones, like also this one; but also some with criticisms. I will look at those expressed on this BBC page; then, my own reservations.

The BBC notes that originally, publicity for the film claimed that young Aisholpan was the first female hunting with a golden eagle ever. Not true, as US historian Adrienne Mayor showed. The Eagle Huntress publicity then changed to saying that Aisholpan was the first huntress ever in her family of traditional eagle hunters.

Ms Mayor and others also pointed out that the film emphasized prejudices among older men against women hunting with eagles too much. Probably that is for dramatic effect in this documentary; like the film Pride (made with actors) over-emphasized homophobic prejudices as a problem for solidarity between striking Welsh miners and LGBTQ activists, the theme of the film.

The BBC article concludes:

Despite her criticisms of the film, the historian Adrienne Mayor agrees that Aisholpan is a worthy heroine.

“Her bravery and her feats in that eagle hunting contest are really amazing and inspiring,” she says.

Now, my own issues. Part of the film shows Aisholpan capturing a young eaglet from its nest on a steep cliff, to train it to become her own hunting eagle (earlier, she used to work with her father’s eagle). I don’t think eaglets should be taken from their nests (except sometimes briefly to ring them by licensed ringers putting them back in the nest a few minutes later). However, hunting golden eagles in Kazakh culture have to be freed after seven years, roughly the time of sexual maturity. In the opening scene, Aisholpan’s father takes his bird to a mountain top and says: my eagle, you have done nothing but good things for me. I now give you a last meal of meat. Then, you can fly away wherever you want. This love for the birds contrasts sharply with the commercial abuse of captive birds of prey and owls in the Netherlands, Belgium and elsewhere.

Her father praises Aisholpan for catching especially a female eaglet. Female golden eagles are bigger and better at hunting than males.

Also, the film shows fox hunting with an eagle, to make a fur coat. I oppose fox hunting and fur worn by humans. However, one cannot equate the film scene with fox hunting in, eg, Britain. In the cold Altai mountains, people would be unable to live without fur and meat from eagle hunts. While in Britain, rich people, who can buy as much fake fur as they want, usually don’t even use the fur of butchered foxes. British toff fox hunters block foxes’ underground escape burrows, and have them torn apart cruelly by dogs.

Aisholpan’s parents are religious Muslims. However, contrary to prejudices about Muslims, they believe in equality of men and women, including for their daughter to become an eagle huntress. The girls in the film don’t wear headscarves, let alone chadaris/’burqas’.

In winter, Aisholpan’s nomadic family lives in a house. In summer, in a yurt. Besides this tent with a history of thousands of years is a twenty-first century solar panel.

After training her young eagle, called White Feathers (name not mentioned in the film), Aisholpan decides to participate in the annual eagle festival, near the provincial capital Olgii.

The film scenes recorded at the festival don’t show the seventy golden eagles participating killing any prey. A four man jury gives points to participants for interaction between human and bird, and reaction speed of the eagle. Aisholpan’s eagle breaks the speed record, making her hunter the winner.

That makes Aisholpan not only the first female victor, but also the youngest one ever. Her eagle, not yet one year old then, was probably also one of the youngest winners ever. After winning, Aisholpan holds White Feathers high above her, indicating that the bird is the real winner.

Carefully, Aisholpan polishes the cup she got for winning at the festival.

Then, in winter, she goes far into the mountains with her father. It is very cold; there are icicles on their horses’ mouths. The horses sink deep into treacherous snow and slip on ice.

Finally, White Feathers catches her first fox for Aisholpan’s fur coat.

Morgan Spurlock, known from a critical documentary on McDonald’s, is involved as producer of this film.

8 thoughts on “The Eagle Huntress, film review

  1. Pingback: Young red-tailed hawk in bald eagle nest fledges | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Young golden eagles freed in Scotland | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Top 5 Asian animals, BBC video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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