The Eagle Huntress

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The Eagle Huntress
The Eagle Huntress.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byOtto Bell
Produced by
  • Otto Bell
  • Sharon Chang
  • Stacey Reiss
StarringAisholpan Nurgaiv
Narrated byDaisy Ridley
Music byJeff Peters
CinematographySimon Niblett
Edited byPierre Takal
  • Kissaki Films
  • Stacey Reiss Productions
Distributed by
Release date
  • 24 January 2016 (2016-01-24) (Sundance)
  • 2 November 2016 (2016-11-02) (United States)
  • 16 December 2016 (2016-12-16) (United Kingdom)
Running time
87 minutes[1]
  • United Kingdom
  • Kazakhstan
  • United States
Box office$3 million[2]

The Eagle Huntress is a 2016 internationally co-produced Kazakh-language documentary film directed by Otto Bell and narrated by executive producer Daisy Ridley.[3] It follows the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl from Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter to compete in the eagle festival at Ulgii, Mongolia, established in 1999.

The film was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature but was ultimately not nominated.[4] It was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.[5]


Aisholpan at TIFF in 2016

The Eagle Huntress follows the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl from Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter to compete in the eagle festival at Ulgii, Mongolia, established in 1999. She belongs to a family of nomads that spend their summers in a yurt in the Altai Mountains and their winters in a house in town. The men in her family have been eagle hunters for seven generations,[6] and she wants to follow in their footsteps.

With her father Nurgaiv's help, she learns how to train golden eagles, and then captures and trains her own eaglet. Although she faces some disbelief and opposition within the traditionally male sport, she becomes the first female to enter the competition at the annual Golden Eagle Festival. She ends up winning the competition, and her eaglet breaks a speed record in one of the events.

After the competition, she takes the final step toward becoming an eagle hunter by traveling with her father to the mountains in the winter to hunt foxes, braving snowy conditions and extreme cold. After some initial misses, her eaglet successfully kills its first fox and she returns home.

The film's dialog is in Kazakh; the narration is in English.


The film's soundtrack features the original song "Angel by the Wings" by Sia, which was released worldwide on December 2, 2016.[7]


The Eagle Huntress premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where it was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics for the US and Altitude Film Distribution in the UK. Afterwards, international distribution was handled by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. Following the film's premiere, co-executive producer Daisy Ridley agreed to add narration, comprising approximately five minutes' total time in the 87-minute film.[8]


The documentary was a New York Times Critics Pick[9] and an LA Times Critics Pick.[10] Chief Film Critics at The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, called the film "a bliss out"[11] and "a movie that expands your sense of what is possible",[9] respectively. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 93% "Certified Fresh" approval rating based on 89 "fresh" reviews and 7 "rotten" reviews. The "Critics Consensus" states: "Effectively stirring and bolstered by thrilling visuals, The Eagle Huntress uses its heartwarming message to fill up a feature that might have made for an even more powerful short film."[12] Metacritic reports a 72 out of 100 score based on 20 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]


Some reviewers and researchers felt that the documentary overstated the amount of opposition Aisholpan faced as a female eagle hunter.[14][15] After historical evidence and facts were published about nomadic steppe women participating in training eagles to hunt from antiquity to the present day,[16] the filmmakers corrected early reports placed in media outlets that Aisholpan was "the only" woman in the world hunting with an eagle.[17][18][19] A 2014 article by a consultant on the film, Dennis Keen, suggests that women in Aisholpan's region faced a "knee-jerk reaction based on a traditionalist understanding of society and the sexes," such that their achievements "are dismissed by nearly every prominent falconer in Central Asia" because they represented "a serious disturbance in how things are done."[20] Aisholpan has described the opposition she faced in her own words.[21][22]


Aisholpan stated her desire to study medicine and become a doctor.[23] The filmmakers made Aisholpan and her family "profit participants" in the documentary and established a fund to help pay for Aisholpan's higher education.[24] They also donated the $3,000 prize money they received from winning Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival to this fund.[25]


  1. ^ "The Eagle Huntress (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 2006-11-14. Retrieved 2006-11-14.
  2. ^ "The Eagle Huntress". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  3. ^ "Mongolia's Teen Eagle Huntress Deserves to Be the Next Elsa". New York Magazine. 2016-11-04. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  4. ^ Cara Buckley (2016-12-06). "Oscar documentary shortlist focuses on politics and race". New York Times.
  5. ^ Diana Lodderhose; Nancy Tartaglione (2017-01-09). "BAFTA nominations: 'La La Land' leads with 11; 'Arrival,' 'Nocturnal Animals' nab 9 each - Full list & notable omissions". Deadline Hollywood.
  6. ^ Barbara J. King (2016-01-28). "Teenage 'Eagle Huntress' Overturns 2,000 Years Of Male Tradition". NPR. Retrieved 2017-01-14.
  7. ^ Seth Kelley (2016-08-05). "'The Eagle Huntress' Trailer: Daisy Ridley Narrates the Documentary". Variety. Retrieved 2016-11-04.; Stephanie Eckardt (2016-10-25). "The Incredible Story Behind the Film "The Eagle Huntress"". W Magazine. Retrieved 2016-11-04.; and "'Angel by the Wings' – Single", Apple Itunes, accessed March 8, 2017
  8. ^ Guerrasio, Jason (2016-09-24). "How a movie about eagle hunting nabbed a Star Wars lead actor and a chart-topping singer". Business Insider. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
  9. ^ a b A. O. Scott (2016-11-01). "Review: In 'The Eagle Huntress,' a girl from Mongolia soars". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "'The Eagle Huntress' and More Critics' Picks". Los Angeles Times. 2016-11-02.
  11. ^ Manohla Dargis (2016-01-29). "Sundance fights tide with films like 'The Birth of a Nation'". New York Times.
  12. ^ "The Eagle Huntress (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  13. ^ "The Eagle Huntress reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2016-11-14.
  14. ^ Stephen Mulvey (2017-02-06). "Is The Eagle Huntress Really a Documentary?". BBC News.
  15. ^ Paul Byrnes (2017-03-15). "The Eagle Huntress Review: A Problematic Documentary". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  16. ^ Adrienne Mayor (2016-05-01). "The Eagle Huntress: Ancient Traditions and New Generations" (PDF). Stanford University.
  17. ^ William Kremer (2014-04-14). "A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia". BBC News.
  18. ^ Andrew Lapin (2016-08-04). "Teenage Eagle Hunter is Mongolia's New Movie Star". National Geographic.
  19. ^ Jamie Broadnax (2016-10-10). "Otto Bell: The Eagle Huntress". Black Girl Nerds.
  20. ^ Dennis Keen (2014-04-19). "The internet may love eagle huntresses, but the eagle hunters certainly don't". The Central Asian Falconry Project.
  21. ^ Cara Buckley (2016-12-02). "A Documentary Star is Born: The Girl Who Hunts with Eagles". New York Times.
  22. ^ Rama Tampubolon (2016-11-01). "Interview: Aisholpan Nurgaiv and Director Otto Bell Talk to Me About The Eagle Huntress and Girl Power". Rama's Screen.
  23. ^ Stacey Reiss (2016-10-08). "13-Year-Old Eagle Huntress Gives Great Advice for People Too Scared to Follow Their Dreams". Harper's Bazaar.
  24. ^ Charline Jao (2017-02-01). "Interview: Otto Bell on the Structure of The Eagle Huntress and Telling Aisholpan's Story". The Mary Sue.
  25. ^ Rafer Guzmán (2016-10-10). "The Eagle Huntress Wins Best Documentary at Hamptons Film Fest". Newsday. Long Island, New York.

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