The Eagle Huntress

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The Eagle Huntress
Theatrical release poster
Directed byOtto Bell
Produced by
StarringAisholpan Nurgaiv
Narrated byDaisy Ridley
CinematographySimon Niblett
Edited byPierre Takal
Music byJeff Peters
  • Kissaki Films
  • Stacey Reiss Productions
  • Shine Global
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 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]
  • Mongolia
  • United Kingdom
  • Kazakhstan
  • United States
LanguagesKazakh, English
Box office$4.4 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 Nurgaiv, 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 who spend their summers in a ger 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 2 December 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] Director Otto Bell said of Ridley, "Like so many other theatergoers around the world, I was blown away by Daisy's recent portrayal of an empowered female protagonist [Rey in The Force Awakens]. I'm thrilled she'll be bringing that same energy to supporting a real-world heroine who is also on an epic journey to win victory in a far away land."[9]


The documentary was a New York Times Critics Pick[10] and an LA Times Critics Pick.[11] Chief Film Critics at The New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, called the film "a bliss out"[12] and "a movie that expands your sense of what is possible",[10] respectively. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 94% approval rating based on 126 reviews with an average rating of 7.41/10. The website's 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."[13] Metacritic reports a 72 out of 100 score based on 20 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[14]


Some reviewers and researchers felt that the documentary overstated the amount of opposition Aisholpan faced as a female eagle hunter and that the early promotion of the film included an ethnocentric and distortive description of the Kazakh eagle hunting culture as being one of "ingrained misogyny" (IMDb description for initial 7 months from film's premiere).[15][16] After historical evidence and facts were published about nomadic steppe women participating in training eagles to hunt from antiquity to the present day,[17] the filmmakers corrected early reports placed in media outlets that Aisholpan was "the only" woman in the world hunting with an eagle.[18][19][20] Said reports in the media no doubt stemmed from Director Otto Bell's assertion during the initial, main interview conducted during the film's premiere at Sundance Film Festival in January 2016 whereby he claimed Aisholpan was: "Changing history (as the) first woman in 2000 years of male-dominated history to ever take up this tradition." [28] 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."[21] Aisholpan has described the opposition she faced in her own words.[22][23]

Despite Dennis Keen's above-noted assertion, in a 8 March 2014 article entitled "Он үшінде қондырған қолға қыран" ( by Suleimen Mamet for Egemen Qazaqstan news, eagle huntress, Makpal Abrazakova, said: "Realizing my enthusiasm, my father deliberately took me to the eagle hunters on the slopes of Alatau [Qazaqstan] and introduced me to the eagle hunters. I was blessed by such elders as Tleubek Esimbek, Aben Toktasynov, Seitzhan Kodekov. Seeing commitment and talent in me they bestowed me with an eaglet/baby eagle which they thought/predicted could become a best hunting eagle in the future." And in a 4 March 2014 article entitled "Falconry Tournament Tests Ancient Skills" ( by Asset Kalymov for The Astana Times news, two of the men mentioned in the above-noted article as having blessed Makpal's eagle hunting career were described as: "famous berkutchis Aben Toktasynuly and Seitzhan Kodekov whose efforts in the early 1990s helped revive this Kazakh tradition." Thus, the men Dennis Keen cites as objecting are only a subset of prominent eagle hunters, and the very men who blessed Makpal's engagement were elders integrally important to the resurrection of the eagle hunting tradition in Kazakhstan during post-Soviet rule.

In addition, although Dennis Keen served as a voluntary film consultant to Otto Bell, he failed to discover the existence of other Kazakh eagle festival participants such as Akbota Bagashar, or Gulaida Zhorobekova, an eagle (and other birds of prey) falconer of Kyrgyzstan, both of whom also preceded Aisholpan Nurgaiv in terms of female engagement in eagle falconry in Central Asia. In an article dated 26 February 2013 by Nadezhda Plyaskina called "The Basic Instinct" with a photo by Roman Egorov,[24] Akbota Bagashar is noted as having competed at the "Sonar-2013" festival, near Nura, a 3 day competition with 40 competitors, involving shirga (lures) and live prey. In that article she said she began going out on hunts with her grandfather as a child and went on her first hunt with her own eagle at age 15. At the 2013 festival in Nura she was awarded a prize by virtue of being the only female competing.

In a September 21, 2023, story by retired journalist, Asha Tanna, for Al Jazeera English news entitled, "In search of the eagle huntresses of western Mongolia",[29] she reports on her experience visiting Bayan-Ölgii, western Mongolia, where The Eagle Huntress was filmed [in 2014-2015 time range with film premiered in 2016]. Tanna notes an 80-year-old eagle hunter named Ajken Tabysbek: "tells Al Jazeera many Kazakhs believe that Aisholpan’s story and win were also merely a publicity stunt. “She did it for the cameras. Women do not hunt today,” the elder claims. “Before Aisholpan’s story, few people knew about our tradition. Yes, now many people are happy she put Olgii on the map and it spread around the world. So why not bring more tourists here to stay with eagle hunter families if that’s what they want?”" In the same article, Tanna shares about how she unknowingly photographed pretend eagle huntresses, Semser and Aigbek, daughters of eagle hunter Shokhan. Her guide, Nurbol Kajikhan, admitted to her: “These girls do not hunt,” he confesses. “They go to school in the winter. It’s for publicity … it’s about the cameras. We know tourists and photographers want to see girls and eagles. And we want people to visit Altai.” Thus, the aftereffects of The Eagle Huntress film in the local community have included both an appreciation of what Aisholpan's engagement in the film has done for tourism while at the same time, the film itself is not regarded as a true documentary but instead as a "publicity stunt". Asha Tanna did not ask the eagle hunter, Akjen, to expand on why exactly that is felt by many Kazakhs to be the case and thus that assertion requires further investigation.


Aisholpan stated her desire to study medicine and become a doctor.[25] The filmmakers made Aisholpan and her family "profit participants" in the documentary and established a fund to help pay for Aisholpan's higher education.[26] They also donated the $3,000 prize money they received from winning Best Documentary at the Hamptons International Film Festival to this fund.[27]


  1. ^ "The Eagle Huntress (U)". British Board of Film Classification. 14 November 2006. Archived from the original on 19 December 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2006.
  2. ^ "The Eagle Huntress". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Mongolia's Teen Eagle Huntress Deserves to Be the Next Elsa". New York Magazine. 4 November 2016. Archived from the original on 28 April 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  4. ^ Cara Buckley (6 December 2016). "Oscar documentary shortlist focuses on politics and race". New York Times. Archived from the original on 13 January 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  5. ^ Diana Lodderhose; Nancy Tartaglione (9 January 2017). "BAFTA nominations: 'La La Land' leads with 11; 'Arrival,' 'Nocturnal Animals' nab 9 each - Full list & notable omissions". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  6. ^ Barbara J. King (28 January 2016). "Teenage 'Eagle Huntress' Overturns 2,000 Years Of Male Tradition". NPR. Archived from the original on 3 November 2017. Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  7. ^ Seth Kelley (5 August 2016). "'The Eagle Huntress' Trailer: Daisy Ridley Narrates the Documentary". Variety. Archived from the original on 16 February 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2016.; Stephanie Eckardt (25 October 2016). "The Incredible Story Behind the Film "The Eagle Huntress"". W Magazine. Archived from the original on 5 January 2017. Retrieved 4 November 2016.; and "'Angel by the Wings' – Single" Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Apple Itunes, accessed 8 March 2017
  8. ^ Guerrasio, Jason (24 September 2016). "How a movie about eagle hunting nabbed a Star Wars lead actor and a chart-topping singer". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 5 November 2016. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
  9. ^ "'Star Wars' Daisy Ridley Becomes 'Eagle Huntress' Executive Producer". Deadline. Archived from the original on 23 January 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
  10. ^ a b A. O. Scott (1 November 2016). "Review: In 'The Eagle Huntress,' a girl from Mongolia soars". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 26 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  11. ^ "'The Eagle Huntress' and More Critics' Picks". Los Angeles Times. 2 November 2016. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  12. ^ Manohla Dargis (29 January 2016). "Sundance fights tide with films like 'The Birth of a Nation'". New York Times. Archived from the original on 4 February 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  13. ^ "The Eagle Huntress (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Archived from the original on 26 July 2020. Retrieved 6 July 2020.
  14. ^ "The Eagle Huntress reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 23 September 2020. Retrieved 14 November 2016.
  15. ^ Stephen Mulvey (6 February 2017). "Is The Eagle Huntress Really a Documentary?". BBC News. Archived from the original on 6 February 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  16. ^ Paul Byrnes (15 March 2017). "The Eagle Huntress Review: A Problematic Documentary". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 10 January 2020. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  17. ^ Adrienne Mayor (1 May 2016). "The Eagle Huntress: Ancient Traditions and New Generations" (PDF). Stanford University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2021. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  18. ^ William Kremer (14 April 2014). "A 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia". BBC News. Archived from the original on 9 June 2018. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  19. ^ Andrew Lapin (4 August 2016). "Teenage Eagle Hunter is Mongolia's New Movie Star". National Geographic. Archived from the original on 5 August 2016.
  20. ^ Jamie Broadnax (10 October 2016). "Otto Bell: The Eagle Huntress". Black Girl Nerds. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  21. ^ Dennis Keen (19 April 2014). "The internet may love eagle huntresses, but the eagle hunters certainly don't". The Central Asian Falconry Project. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  22. ^ Cara Buckley (2 December 2016). "A Documentary Star is Born: The Girl Who Hunts with Eagles". New York Times. Archived from the original on 26 February 2017. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  23. ^ Rama Tampubolon (1 November 2016). "Interview: Aisholpan Nurgaiv and Director Otto Bell Talk to Me About The Eagle Huntress and Girl Power". Rama's Screen. Archived from the original on 2 May 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  24. ^ Plyaskina, Nadezhda. "The Basic Instinct". "Vremya" (Time). "Vremya" Publishing House (Almaty, Kazakhstan). Archived from the original on 27 October 2021. Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  25. ^ Stacey Reiss (8 October 2016). "13-Year-Old Eagle Huntress Gives Great Advice for People Too Scared to Follow Their Dreams". Harper's Bazaar. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  26. ^ Charline Jao (1 February 2017). "Interview: Otto Bell on the Structure of The Eagle Huntress and Telling Aisholpan's Story". The Mary Sue. Archived from the original on 25 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.
  27. ^ Rafer Guzmán (10 October 2016). "The Eagle Huntress Wins Best Documentary at Hamptons Film Fest". Newsday. Long Island, New York. Archived from the original on 21 October 2021. Retrieved 24 February 2017.

[28] Source: Mountain Morning Show - The Eagle Huntress pt. 1 interview published by Park City Television on January 26, 2016 and viewable on YouTube.

[29] Source: September 21, 2023, story by retired journalist, Asha Tanna, for Al Jazeera English news entitled, "In search of the eagle huntresses of western Mongolia" located at url:

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