Breaking Barriers: Mongolian Girl Stars in “The Eagle Huntress” Documentary
It’s a treasure to discover a “feel-good” film that sparks joy, offers hope, and inspires dreams. Such is the case with the 2016 documentary, “The Eagle Huntress,” shot against the vast steppe and soaring, snowy Altai Mountains of Mongolia.
The movie follows a real-life 13-year-old girl, Aisholpan, as she trains to become an eagle hunter – the first female in 12 generations of her nomadic Kazakh family to do so. Against all odds, young Aisholpan trains for, competes, and wins Mongolia’s “Golden Eagle Festival,” a grueling competition once the exclusive domain of men. “The Eagle Huntress” was a short-list contender for an Oscar nomination as “Best Feature Documentary.”
Eagle’s-Eye View of Mongolia
Following a centuries-old tradition, when boys – and now girls – turn 13 and are strong enough to carry a 15-pound golden eagle on their arms, they snatch a female eaglet from its nest and train the bird to hunt for prey, bringing back the catch for food. After several years the golden eagle is released back into the wild. In “The Eagle Huntress,” Aisholpan develops a strong bond with her eagle, and in the process deepens the bond with her father and family who tell her “anything is possible if you are determined.”
Directed by Otto Bell, “The Eagle Huntress” is remarkable for being shot in real time – no retakes. The cinematography – often shot by drones and even with a GoPro camera strapped (gently) to an eagle’s head – reflects the soaring nature of the story, from its steppe-to-mountain landscapes to its young heroine’s indomitable spirit.
Seeing the Movie, and Mongolia
MIR travelers can experience the annual festival first-hand on our small group tour: Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival. Travelers can attend the annual Golden Eagle Festival, where the eagle hunters display their birds’ speed, skill and training, as well as the deep bond that forms between bird and human. Along the way, explore Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, with its Buddhist and nomadic heritage, as well as the fabled Gobi Desert.
Arlene Mikkelsen traveled on MIR’s tour to Mongolia, Mongolian Explorer: The Gobi & Beyond with Naadam Festival. That experience gave her a deeper appreciation for “The Eagle Huntress.”
The cinematography is fantastic, especially shots taken in the remote, snow-covered mountains where Aisholpan learns to hunt. This documentary is a must-see for anyone having an interest in Mongolia. The film depicts the nomadic culture of many people in Mongolia, living in ger camps during the summer months and then moving to warmer areas for the winter. We see the hardships these families endure in order to survive.
“The Eagle Huntress” fully depicts what the contestants go through during the Golden Eagle Festival. Aisholpan [the young heroine] is a role model for girls winning in a “male-only” tradition of hunting. It’s clear that her family – especially her father and grandfather – encouraged her to excel at anything she put her mind to; she has a “can-do” attitude despite the admonitions from male eagle hunters. Aisholpan’s strong bond with her eagle made her a winner.
MIR Tour Manager, Michel Behar, strongly recommends not only seeing the movie, but seeing Mongolia as well.
Mongolia as a society has a strong nomadic influence, and considerable female empowerment. Family relations are strong, and parents entrust a lot of responsibility to their children, even when they are still very young: herding, caring for the household, and hosting guests when parents are away. As for Mongolia’s varied landscape, the rugged Altai Mountains differ distinctly from the central heights, the taiga in the north and the Gobi Desert in the south.
I found the Kazakh minority in Mongolia added an extra layer to “The Eagle Huntress.” They are Muslim, while Mongolians are Buddhist. There’s a difference in clothing as well, with the eagle huntress and her relatives resembling traditional Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, compared to native Mongolians. Their roles on gender are different; I think Kazakhs are perhaps the most open-minded Muslims in the world.
Travel to Mongolia with MIR
“The Eagle Huntress” is creating curiosity about Mongolia, from its raw, wide-open landscapes to its remote, snowy mountains where eagles hunters – and huntresses – practice maneuvers with their golden eagles.
MIR has nearly 30 years of experience handcrafting tours to Mongolia. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise has twice earned it a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Experience the extraordinary art of eagle hunting firsthand
Travel on MIR’s celebratory small group tour, Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival with MIR veteran tour manager Michel Behar leading the way. On this itinerary, travelers will fly to the remote Mongolian outback to attend the annual Golden Eagle Festival, where the eagle hunters display their birds’ speed, skill, and training, as well as the deep bond that forms between bird and human.
Along the way explore the remote Gobi Desert, the busy capital city – Ulaanbaatar – and the high steppe of Mongolia, Terelj National Park (tour details & photos).
MIR offers a custom private journey that explores Mongolia’s landscapes and nomadic traditions highlighted in “The Eagle Huntress.” You can also travel on a private journey to western Mongolia that includes the Golden Eagle Festival in Ulgii featured in “The Eagle Huntress,” and customized to your desired dates and style.
You also can view many of Mongolia’s majestic sites on MIR’s small group tours and rail journeys by private train:
- Mongolian Explorer: The Gobi & Beyond with Naadam Festival
- Siberia & Mongolia: Spirits & Nomads
- Mongolia to Moscow: A Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure
- Trans-Siberian Winter Wonder Land Route: Eastbound / Westbound
- The Trans-Siberian Express Between Moscow & Beijing: Eastbound / Westbound
- The Trans-Siberian Classic Route: Eastbound / Westbound
- The Trans-Siberian Mongolian Route with Naadam Festival: Eastbound / Westbound
- The Trans-Siberian Ulaanbaatar Express Route
(Top photo credit: Vlad Ushakov – A golden eagle’s wingspan can reach six feet, flying at speeds up to 190 m.p.h.)
PUBLISHED: December 9, 2016