The Eagle Huntress (2016)
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The Eagle Huntress is a documentary that follows a 13-year-old Kazakh girl from Mongolia called Aisholpan on her journey to become the first female eagle huntress in her region. This is a tradition going back generations, a patriarchal one, and the film is more or less divided into three sections - her capture and training of an eaglet, her participation in a festival competition, and an actual mountain hunt under grueling conditions. From the first scene, in which a different hunter releases his animal after its allowed years of service, something gripped me. While the film glosses over a lot to shape it into an underdog narrative, and has over-obvious music, there's something incredibly poignant about it. A combination of Aisholpan's natural, easy relationship with this wild animal, and her family's unwavering support, I think. Whether you're looking at the feminist aspect, the sports movie second act, or the tense survival tale in the third, there's a sweetness about The Eagle Huntress, and for the fain of heart, mercifully little animal violence. It might have been a stronger documentary if we'd seen more eagle-on-fox action, or Aisholpan struggling with her bird in training (it seems a little easy), but it would not have made it a better family film. It strikes the right note for its message by avoiding anything too distressing (if indeed, anything like that was shot).
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