The Eagle Huntress (3 stars)

The Eagle Huntress

Daisy Ridley narrates a crowd-pleasing, Mongolia-set documentary following a teenage trailblazer

There are many glass ceilings that are just waiting to be broken. That's the empowering message of Otto Bell's documentary about a young girl's struggle to become the eagle huntress of the title, with the humble heroine rising above gender prejudice in the wilds of Mongolia in crowd-pleasing style.

Inspired by the photography of Asher Svidensky, Bell presents the story of Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a girl of 13 who sets out to follow in her father's footsteps as an eagle trainer. A few monosyllabic interviews with local tribesmen indicate that it's going to be hard work for Aisholpan to succeed in what's considered to be a man's world but, after trapping and training her eagle, she makes it all the way to the annual Eagle Festival and beyond.

'He's having issues with his eagle,' shouts a spectator as one of Aisholpan's rivals bites the dust, and the unusual visual quality of the bird-based competition makes The Eagle Huntress compelling fare. But the distinctly western inflection of such subtitles also indicates a weakness; Bell's documentary skirts the details of exactly what the tribal 'issues' are, preferring to shoehorn Aisholpan's story into a simple 'girl power' parable. She shoots and she scores, but it's never clear why the opposition fold so easily.

The Eagle Huntress also sports a cringe-inducing voice-over, recorded by Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Daisy Ridley, which is monotone and somewhat unengaged. The late-in-the-day involvement of Ridley (also an executive producer) and Sia (whose original song 'Angel by the Wings' plays at the film's climax and over the closing credits) may help bring the film to a wider audience, but the routine way in which foxes and rabbits are presented as easy meat may put off nature lovers. Nevertheless, it would take a cold heart not to feel some uplift from Aisholpan's game-changing triumph against the odds.

Selected release from Fri 16 Dec.

The Eagle Huntress

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • UK / Mongolia / US
  • 1h 27min
  • U
  • Directed by: Otto Bell
  • Cast: Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Daisy Ridley (voice)
  • UK release: 16 December 2016

Aisholpan Nurgaiv, a 13 year old girl, trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. Crowd-pleasing documentary which skirts some of the deeper issues, and Ridley's monotonous voice-over doesn't help, but only a cold heart would fail to be stirred by Aisholpan's…