Hunting with Eagles: A 13-year-old Mongolian Girl Learns the Ancient Art

Not long ago, I got a film that its sender thought was perfect for me: he knew that I have always been fascinated by falconry, the sport of hunting with hawks. I’ve read about it in non-fiction, poetry and novels, and each time, wondered how the birds are trained and how they find their master on the ground. In a new SONY documentary, “The Eagle Huntress,” a thirteen-year-old Mongolian girl, Aisholpan, is inspired to become an Eagle Hunter herself by watching her father train a Golden Eagle for hunting and also for competition. Her father has won the national  sport twice. Only males have been eligible to trap a young Golden Eagle in its nest in the mountains, take it back home, and start training it to hunt. The girl asks her father if she may learn this skill. Surprisingly, he gives his wholehearted approval and helps her achieve her dream of flying an eagle. There are elders in the village, of course, who do not approve of the girl becoming an eagle hunter. The photography of the harsh terrain shows us the steppes, the flights of the great eagle, close-ups of its eyes, the swiftness of its flight, sounds of the training as the girl makes a strange sound to the eagle which it recognizes as “Come to me,” and the unmistakable joy the father and daughter feel as they bravely set out together as companions on a quest to tame the great bird. The camera often lingers on Aisholpan’s face and no wonder: she is beautiful.  The camera work is precise and unyielding as to detail. I quite literally couldn’t take my eyes away from this film. The work training the bird is so arduous that I kept thinking, “She must win the contest after all this.” I won’t tell you here what happens.

Kenneth Turan, critic of the LA Times, has written a heartfelt appreciation of this marvelous film, which I include here. No one else could write more truthfully or accurately of “The Eagle Huntress.” I urge my readers to get the film. It is already earning prizes. And by the way, it is a fine family film.

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