Middleburg Film Review: ‘The Eagle Huntress’ Captures the Spirit and Wonder of Dreamers


eagle huntress poster_01102016 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: Films that showcase different cultures from around the world are sorely lacking in our filmmaking landscape. Good thing we have films like “The Eagle Huntress.” Director Otto Bell, in his impressive debut, is a natural of the lens. Bell captures some breathtaking images while harnessing the simplicity and magic of his subjects. At 87 minutes, it’s a tight, sharp piece that relaxes into its rhythm, inviting the audience to dance. Soulful and angelic, it’s one of the most uplifting and spiritually rousing documentaries of the year.

“The Eagle Huntress” follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter.

Much like in the way the world adored Malala last year with “He Named Me Malala,” Aisholpan is a tender, wonderful human to follow. Her divine spirit is felt and pours from each frame in which Bell captures her. You watch Bell’s film first fascinated by the endeavor, and then infuriated by the gender bias that plagues her world. This is a story that should be a required viewing for every grade school child across America. “The Eagle Huntress” is a Valentine to the dreamers of the world, going against all the odds to achieve the perceived impossible. It’s a living spirited cousin of Niki Caro’s “Whale Rider.”

Audiences are sure to cheer, with some even shedding a tear. The film sits quietly in its own nook of documentary filmmaking. Much of the film’s beauty is thanks to cinematographer Simon Niblett, who captures angles and shots you would see in a National Geographic special. With that said, that is probably what prohibits the film from achieving monumental success. There are films that capture the human spirit and truth of its subject (i.e. “Grizzly Man”) and others that catch snippets of the wonder of nature (i.e. “March of the Penguins”). “The Eagle Huntress” skirts that line and never fully makes a commitment to either. For some, it will seem as if it doesn’t need to make such a choice.

Bell inserts minimal narration from Daisy Ridley, star of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” who is also an executive producer on the film. She inserts just brief history of the land in which Aisholpan lives and other small anecdotes along the way. Sia‘s “Angel by the Wings” is a sonorous thing of beauty, weaving in and out of many scenes throughout the picture. Don’t be surprised to see the song as an Oscar nominee by year’s end.

“The Eagle Huntress” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. It’s just a feel good movie, where a snapshot of one child’s destiny can capture the hearts of the world.

“The Eagle Huntress” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is set to be released on Nov. 2.

GRADE: (★★★)