Sundance 2016: 'The Eagle Huntress' an enchanting tale of girl power


In "The Eagle Huntress," Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia, bucks 2,000 years of tradition to become the first female to hunt with formidable golden eagles in her homeland. (19340 Productions) “The Eagle Huntress,” a documentary that’s as unlikely as it is enchanting, has landed in Sundance, and falling under its sway is inevitable. The story introduces Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia who bucked 2,000 years of tradition to become the first female to hunt with formidable golden eagles in a locale director Otto Bell describes as “the most remote part of the least-populated country in the world. It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there.”A demure, shy girl with bright eyes and a shining smile, Aisholpan and her parents made the trip to Park City to promote the film and to appear in a media event with eagles provided by the Comanche nation. Her own eagle, Akkatnat or White Wings, is back home in Mongolia, where the rest of her nomadic family is, and when asked whether she missed the enormous beast, Aisholpan’s face lit up like a star. Aisholpan "The Eagle Huntress'" Aisholpan holding Nuepi, the Golden Eagle, in the L.A. Times photo studio at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 22. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times) Sundance Film Festival 2016: Full coverage | Photos of the scene Some scholars believe that the whole idea of hunting with birds like eagles may have originated in Mongolia. The great conqueror Genghis Khan was said to have kept a thousand eagles, and to have so admired the mettle of eagle hunters that he used them as personal bodyguards. Nomadic herders like Aisholpan’s father, Nurgaiv, himself the seventh generation of male-only hunters, use the birds to go after foxes and other small animals, both for food and for fur to keep warm in the savage winters. Despite scoffing from traditionalists, when Aisholpan expressed an interest in becoming a hunter, her father readily agreed. “She’s been transfixed by eagles since she was a kid,” Bell said. “It’s masterful to see how she works with them.” Before he became involved with Aisholpan and her quest, the energetic 34-year-old Bell had worked for nearly 10 years as a director of shorter, branded content pieces for major corporate clients. “I’d worked all over — Uganda, Egypt, Japan, Vietnam. I was used to foreign languages, to working with a translator, so when this opportunity came up, I didn’t hesitate,” the British director says, adding with a laugh, “perhaps I should have.”