Mon­go­lian ea­gle hunt­ing, dreams take wing

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By CHRIS DAVIS in New York chris­davis@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter says China is get­ting ready to up the quota of for­eign-made films al­lowed into the coun­try from 34 to 44.

One they should def­i­nitely let through the gate is The Ea­gle Hun­tress from Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics, which this writer was lucky enough to see at an ad­vance screen­ing in New York City on Mon­day.

It’s a docu­d­rama about a 13-year-old Kazakh girl — Aishol­pan — who wants to defy thou­sands of years of tra­di­tion and be­come — like her fa­ther and his fa­ther be­fore him and on and on for 12 gen­er­a­tions — an ea­gle hunter. Just to be clear, this an­cient art is not hunt­ing down ea­gles but us­ing mag­nif­i­cent trained golden ea­gles to hunt — usu­ally foxes, rab­bits and the oc­ca­sional moun­tain goat or wolf.

While some of the old guard pooh-pooh the very idea of a girl even imag­in­ing such a thing, Aishol­pan’s fa­ther, Nur­gaiv, one of the all time great­est dads in any movie ever, is all for it. Her mother is too. Nur­gaiv is not only an ex­pert ea­gle hunter, he’s won the big ea­gle hun­ters cham­pi­onship twice.

“There is no gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion when it comes to hunt­ing with ea­gles,” Nur­gaiv says. “Any­one who is ca­pa­ble of hunt­ing with an ea­gle is al­lowed to do so. Aishol­pan is a very brave girl. She rides horses, climbs rocks and hunts with ea­gles eas­ily, like a boy. I am very proud of her.”

Aishol­pan, whose chronic shy­ness is only part of her charm, says, “I was 10 years old when I de­cided I wanted to be an ea­gle hun­tress. Girls and boys are just as strong: if a boy can do some­thing, girls can do it as well.”

The movie takes you into the vast breath­tak­ing ex­panses of Mon­go­lia and the Al­tai Moun­tain range, where win­ter tem­per­a­tures reg­u­larly dip to mi­nus 40 Fahren­heit and rugged lit­tle Mon­go­lian horses are the only way to get in and out of the hunt­ing tracts.

No spoiler alert here, but when you see these birds up close — they weigh 15 pounds, stand 3 feet tall and have a wing span of 6 feet — and this beam­ing ap­ple-cheeked kid hold out her arm for one to swoop out of the sky and land on (oh yes, and she is on horse­back at full gal­lop), your im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion is to jump up and cheer.

As ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Mor­gan Spur­lock, the di­rec­tor of Su­per Size Me, put it: “It makes me re­ally emo­tional to watch Aishol­pan catch her ea­gle. There are things that you see that are such feats of hu­man en­deavor that you can’t even put words to them — they leave you speech­less. I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched the film and I cry ev­ery time.”

The film pre­miered at Sun­dance in Jan­uary and at the time, ac­cord­ing to press notes, ev­ery­body was talk­ing about the new Star Wars movie. Spur­lock, who helped di­rec­tor Otto Bell get the film wrapped up, saw a con­nec­tion be­tween Aishlopan and the Daisy Ri­d­ley char­ac­ter “Rey” in the new Star Wars film.

“There’s a mo­ment that’s hap­pen­ing in our world and our time right now where we are giv­ing voice and power to young women in a way that hasn’t ever hap­pened be­fore,” he said. “This film res­onates in that space in a mas­sive way.”

He ar­ranged to show Daisy Ri­d­ley the film and Bell called her soon af­ter­wards.

“She told me about how she’d been curled up in a ball watch­ing it in her liv­ing room cry­ing, and she talked in great de­tail about spe­cific mo­ments,” Bell said.

Not only did Ri­d­ley go aboard as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, she also recorded the nar­ra­tive voice over for the the­atri­cal ver­sion.

The movie is not just about break­ing age-old bar­ri­ers of tra­di­tion, and it’s not just about keep­ing an an­cient (and thrilling) sport (and hu­man-rap­tor re­la­tion­ship) alive, it’s about a young girl look­ing back at 12 gen­er­a­tions of tra­di­tion and say­ing, “I want to do that too.” And do­ing it. It’s a stun­ning re­minder that young peo­ple’s dreams are meant to soar.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF SONY PIC­TURES CLAS­SICS

A still from the new film fa­ther Nur­gaiv. with Aishol­pan and her

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