A documentary about a 13 year Kazakh girl from a Nomad community wanting to become the first female in generations to train an eagle can’t help but sound like some relation of Borat. Mercifully this is a sincere insight into a generation steeped in tradition when it comes to a competition between various different tribes represented by their men who compete with their pet hunting eagles. The twist here is that a 13 year old girl by the name of Aishalpan (pronounced Ash-hol–pan and frankly sounds like Sean Connery hurling an insult) who wants to follow in the footsteps of her forefathers and be the first female Eagle Huntress and therefore be the first female winner of the annual eagle hunter contest. It’s something strongly opposed by the elders of all the nomadic tribes who, dressed in an outrageous array of furs that look like part of the Derek Zoolander Winter Collection, as they air their antiquated views on where a woman’s place is. They have the best unintentional laughs especially towards the end of the film when some of them are unable to even comment and just sit their stony faced like a Kazakh version of Les Dawson.
Aishalpan is endearingly charming in her quest to become an eagle huntress in the all male domain whilst at the same time still drawn to traditionally female distractions as demonstrated when she paints her nails albeit incredibly badly. Unlike the elders her father wholly supports her though it does start to raise eyebrows when they set off to get her an eaglet of her own that she can train. Far be it from a trip to the local pet store her father instead takes her up as sheer cliff face, ties a rope round her waist and dangles her over the edge armed only with an old rug to trap the eagle. It’s the sort of thing that would get the local social services apoplectic and take the child into protective custody…….unless of course you live in Haringey. It’s a great sequence eliciting sympathy, alarm and terror not only for the girl but also for the eaglet she’s trying to capture with the big rug.
Her training of the eagle appears quite lax and the eagle appears to be more of a pet than a trained hunter and ultimately when the competition does come she seems to have little chance against the other more seasoned hunters. The competition which really should be the natural end to the documentary but like the final Lord of the Rings: Return of the King the film doesn’t end when it should and continues as she takes her Eagle out for its first hunt in the snow covered mountains. It’s a complaint that overrides the film with its leisurely pace which goes on just a little too long. Narrated by Daisy Ridley who also executive produces it would have benefitted from a tighter edit and more explanatory voiceovers into what is an intriguing insight into a culture where the kids aren’t glued to social media.
Here’s the trailer…….