Aisholpan Nurgaiv The Eagle Huntress

Aisholpan Nurgaiv The Eagle Huntress

Cast: Aisholpan Nurgaiv, Daisy Ridley, Rys Nurgaiv
Director: Otto Bell
Genre: Documentary, Adventure, Family
Rated: G
Running Time: 87 minutes

Synopsis: The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholopan, 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, and rises to the pinnacle of a tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries.

Set against the breathtaking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, The Eagle Huntress features some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography ever captured in a documentary, giving this intimate tale of a young girl's quest the dramatic force of an epic narrative film.

While there are many old Kazakh eagle hunters who vehemently reject the idea of any female taking part in their ancient tradition, Aisholpan's father Nurgaiv believes that a girl can do anything a boy can, as long as she's determined.

The story begins after Aisholpan has been training with her father's eagle for many months. As every eagle can only have one master, the time has come for Aisholpan to capture an eagle of her own. Clambering down a sheer rock cliff with a rope, Aisholpan retrieves a fledgling eagle from its nest as its mother circles overhead. Her eagle will live, train, and hunt with her, until she releases it into the wild years later, so the cycle of life can continue.

After months of training her eagle with her father, Aisholpan is ready to test her abilities. She enters a renowned competition, the Golden Eagle Festival, and faces off against 70 of the greatest Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia.

The most arduous challenge is yet to come, as the rite-of-passage for every young eagle hunter is to take part in a hunt. Aisholpan must ride with her father deep into the frigid mountains and endure 40 below zero temperatures and perilous landscapes to prove she is a true eagle huntress.

The Eagle Huntress is executive produced and narrated by Star War's Daisy Ridley. Like Ridley's character 'Rey," Aisholpan never doubts her ability to be as strong or brave as any boy. She recognises no obstacles and refuses to have her ambition denied. While she practices an ancient art, Aisholpan's story is a modern and inspiring one because she represents a world where a young girl's dreams"no matter how challenging"can come true.

Directed by Otto Bell, The Eagle Huntress is narrated by Daisy Ridley, executive produced by Ridley and Morgan Spurlock, and produced by Stacy Reiss, Sharon Chang and Otto Bell. The director of photography is Simon Niblett, the editor is Pierre Takal and the film features a stirring end credits song, 'Angel by the Wings," by Sia.

The Eagle Huntress
Release Date: March 16th, 2017


About The Production

 

The Characters

 
Aisholpan is a 13-year-old nomadic Kazakh child of the Altai Mountains who is determined to become an eagle hunter like her father. While she wants to be the first female in 12 generations of her family to become an eagle hunter, she has complete confidence that she will succeed, as she has never been taught otherwise. She is also studying hard in school so that one day she will become a doctor.


Nurgaiv is Aisholpan's Father, a master eagle hunter. Like his ancestors, Nurgaiv makes his living the nomad way, herding goats and cattle across the vast Mongolian Steppe. Nurgaiv has also won the annual Eagle Festival in Ölgii two times. Before Aisholpan, Nurgaiv trained Aisholpan's big brother to be an eagle hunter, and will pass on the tradition to her younger sister and brother after her.


Almagul, Aisholpan's mother, like all Kazakh women before her, has been made very strong by the rigors of nomadic life. By tradition, she takes on the responsibilities for children, cooking and cleaning. Even though it means she will spend less time with her daughter, she wholeheartedly supports Aisholpan's dream of becoming an eagle huntress.


Dalaikhan is a long-time friend of Nurgaiv and a master eagle hunter who releases his eagle to the wild in the film's first scene. He reappears in the film when Aisholpan and Nurgaiv stay at his house on the way to the hunt.

 

The Eagle Huntress began when director Otto Bell first laid eyes on one of the most remarkable images he had ever seen: a radiant young girl on a mountain top, joyfully casting a majestic eagle into the air.

The pictures of the girl, Aisholpan Nurgaiv, taken by Israeli photographer Asher Svidensky, enchanted Otto Bell, but the BBC News headline, 'A 13-Year-Old Eagle Huntress in Mongolia," intrigued him even more. 'It was like my senses joined up for a second," he says. 'I knew that somewhere in the world this girl was out there walking around. There was a film that needed to be made about her"and I wanted to be the one to make it."

Otto Bell was undeterred by the fact that he had never made a single feature documentary before. Up until then, he had travelled the globe making branded content short documentaries. 'I'd go live with a Chilean doctor, or a Brazilian cop, or a Russian electrical worker or a Vietnamese coconut milk saleswoman," he says. 'All my films were intimate portraits of everyday people." But he hungered to do something on a larger scale than his shorts. He tracked down Asher Svidensky on Facebook, and they began to discuss the idea of a film.

As they began talking, Asher Svidensky's photos started going viral, appearing on sites like National Geographic and Huffington Post. 'I saw this as a kind of proof," says Otto Bell. 'If so many others felt as strongly about the photos as I did, then I had to be on to something." Unfortunately, it also meant that other filmmakers were also reaching out to Svidensky with proposals. While Asher Svidensky was loyal, Otto Bell knew he had to move quickly or risk losing his chance. So he took a leap of faith and took off for Mongolia with Asher Svidensky and cameraman Chris Raymond.

After arriving in the nation's capital, Ulaanbataar, the three boarded a twin prop plane headed towards Ölgii, a small village in the Bayan-Ölgii province in northwest Mongolia. As Otto Bell flew over the stunning, sparsely populated Mongolian landscape, he was struck by its otherworldly beauty. Just as he did when he first saw Asher Svidensky's photograph of the girl on the mountain, he felt like he was looking through a window centuries into the past. 'I knew that if I was going to do justice to her story, I would have to find a way to make people feel like I did at that moment," says Otto Bell.

After landing in Ölgii, Otto Bell and his team took a two hour ride on a rickety Soviet bus before they arrived at Aisholpan's family ger (nomadic dwelling) settled next to a mountainside in a remote area of Bayan-Ölgii. 'The first time I saw Aisholpan, having flown across the world to see her, was incredible," says Otto Bell. 'They are very reserved people, so I had to keep my feelings in check, but inside I was punching the air." As they all sat down for a drink of traditional milky Kazakh tea, and began discussing ideas for the film, Aisholpan Nurgaiv's father, Nurgaiv, said: 'Me and my daughter are going to steal a balapan (young eagle) from its nest this morning. Is that the kind of thing you'd like to film?"

Nurgaiv's unexpected offer was both thrilling and scary for Bell. He knew that the potential for an extremely dramatic scene had been dropped in his lap, but he hadn't come with enough equipment to shoot it properly"Raymond's Canon C300 Mark 1 (1080p), Svidensky's DSLR, and a tiny GoPro camera, wasn't enough for the coverage a scene like this would require. He didn't even have a soundman"just a pocket Zoom digital recorder he brought along to use for interviews. He couldn't ask Aisholpan to redo her capture of the eagle"he would only get one chance.

But Otto Bell made do. He stationed Raymond below so he could establish the vastness of the setting and show how high Aisholpan and Nurgaiv were. (Raymond was afraid of heights anyway.) He and Svidensky climbed the mountain and scaled down to the ledge where Nurgaiv was tying Aisholpan with rope. Bell attached the GoPro to the inside of Aisholpan's sweater so he could get some shots from her point of view.

Just as Aisholpan was clambering over the edge, Otto Bell asked her to linger for a moment so that he and Svidensky could drop down to a lower ledge"with a hand from their driver"to film her trajectory from below. 'Asher is a big guy," says Otto Bell. 'It was very dangerous." The two were now situated on a precarious ledge to the left of where Aisholpan was attempting to snag the eagle. 'Asher Svidensky didn't have a tripod, so I was just trying to get him to hold it steady," says Otto Bell. 'I was holding the Zoom up, talking in Asher Svidensky's ear trying to get him to hold focus, and meanwhile we have the mother eagle circling overhead. We only had one bite of the cherry to get this."

After Aisholpan climbed back up to the top ledge, Otto Bell and Asher Svidensky had to ascend yet another time to capture the shot of Aisholpan and her eagle. 'If it looks smooth," says Otto Bell, 'I give the credit to Pierre Takal, our editor, because it was ragtag!"

Otto Bell had survived shooting this vital sequence, but he didn't want the rest of his film to be made in such a frenetic way. He knew that if he told Aisholpan's story merely as stripped-down cinema-verité, it would actually not evoke the unreality of what it was like to actually be there. He had to capture the epic qualities of Mongolian landscape. 'It's so vast and cinematic," he says. 'The only way you can get your arms around it is from the air."

The only problem with making the epic film he had in mind was that he didn't have any money"it would all be coming out of his limited savings, and maxing out his credit cards. Staffing up with a proper crew would not be possible. Even a soundman would be an extravagance, so Bell would have to carry on with his little Zoom recorder. Otto Bell was not worried, because he knew he could achieve amazing results using inexpensive equipment. After all the years of paying crew members top rates on his shorts, he had some friends he could call on for favours.

Most important was his long-time collaborator, director of photography Simon Niblett. Not only was Simon Niblett willing to help Otto Bell realise his dream, he packed a self-made drone and a crane along with his camera and suitcase. A self-described nerd, Simon Niblett has been building his own film equipment for years, all designed to be packed into small cases. He was the first person in the UK to fly a Red One digital camera on one of his creations. Simon Niblett also built a thirty-foot crane, based on the idea of a ship's mast, which they were able to put into a snowboarder's bag for the filming of The Eagle Huntress. The drones were used not only for the soaring aerial photography, but also as virtual 'tripods in the sky," where they could hold rock solid on unusual angles. The crane was used for any shots involving camera moves close to people or in situations where harsh weather made it impossible for the drones to fly. The filmmakers even made an 'eagle cam" from a dog's harness to create an actual birds-eye view.

Working with equipment of this nature and a full-sized 4K EPIC camera does not allow for fly-on-the-wall filmmaking. Otto Bell and Simon Niblett had to find the balance between making a film that was true to its subject and yet as majestic as a Hollywood blockbuster. Most of what they did was no different from what's done in nearly all documentaries. On occasion, their subjects were asked to perform actions more than once, but they were never asked to do things differently than they would otherwise. 'I have watched a lot of documentary filmmakers work over the years," says Otto Bell, 'and some of them are quite shameless about how much they will ask everyday people to repeat things and again and again. I don't really have that gene, and I get very nervous and angst-ridden about that when I know they've had a long day."

Otto Bell proceeded cautiously as he built his relationship with Aisholpan and her family. 'It was hard, as she's a 13-year-old girl who's chronically shy, and I didn't speak the language," says Otto Bell. 'I concentrated on my relationship with her mom and dad first, to get them comfortable. They are very reserved and stoic people, so I had to respect that as I approached them. It took awhile, but over time she and I really built a friendship." Filmmaker Martina Radwan stayed with Aisholpan and her family for two weeks, and captured many of the 'day in the life" moments in the film like scenes of Aisholpan at school, the family eating dinner, and ice-skating with her friends. 'We wanted to give the audience a window into the everyday life of Aisholpan," says Otto Bell.

Otto Bell shot his interviews with the Kazakh eagle hunter elders during his first trip to Mongolia in the village of Sagsai, where many of them live. Finding his interview subjects by literally going door to door, he asked them more general questions about eagle hunting before bringing the conversation around to female eagle hunters, eliciting the patronising remarks heard in the film"that women are 'too fragile" or 'not brave enough" to hunt with a Golden Eagle.

Living in remote places and devoting their lives to a centuries-old tradition, the octogenarian eagle hunter elders represent the most reactionary ideas about women's roles among Kazakhs and in Mongolia in general. Still, as Aisholpan's parents' support for her dream attests, there is a wide spectrum of Kazakh views. 'There is no gender discrimination when it comes to hunting with eagles," says Nurgaiv. '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." Says Aisholpan: 'Girls and boys are just as strong: if a boy can do something, girls can do it as well."

At the same time, there is a long history of patriarchal ideas and customs among Kazakhs, many of which exist today in the average ger. As scholar Dennis Keen has pointed out: 'Household labour is rigidly split between men and women. Men herd cattle, take care of finances, and have a greater luxury of recreation and hunting; women herd children, take care of guests, and when free, sew or shop." The left side of the ger is the domain of women; the right for men. It's easy to see why the old eagle hunters would reflexively object to the idea of a girl hunting eagles, even though there is no set rule against it.

Aisholpan's desire to become an eagle huntress was not a sudden impetuous request. 'I was ten years old when I decided I wanted to be an eagle huntress," says Aisholpan. Says Otto Bell: 'If there was an American girl who suddenly said, -Dad, I want to be a bull rider!' we might wonder where that came from," says Otto Bell. 'But if she'd been standing at the paddock every day for the last thirteen years looking at the bulls, you might say, -I knew this day would come.'"

While Aisholpan is not the first modern Kazakh eagle huntress"Makpal Abdrazakova, a lawyer from Kazakhstan preceded her"she is the first Mongolian female to compete at the Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii and win, defeating 70 veteran eagle hunters. But Aisholpan's win was particularly spectacular"a record setter. A terrific time for an eagle to swoop down from a mountaintop and land on its master's arm is 30 seconds. In many cases the birds simply fly away.

Aisholpan's eagle flew to her arm in five seconds, the fastest recorded time to date.

After Aisholpan's triumph, Otto Bell returned to Sagsai to find out how the eagle hunter elders would respond to her defeating so many of them. Unsurprisingly, they dismissed her victory, and maintained that for Aisholpan to prove that she is a real eagle huntress, she would have to successfully hunt a fox with her eagle.

While Aisholpan's victory would provide a stirring conclusion for the movie, Bell knew that he had to come back and film the hunt. Unfortunately, he had run out of money. 'I knew we had to get back somehow for the winter hunt," says Otto Bell. 'I couldn't leave the family in the lurch, with such an important story to tell."

Bell put together a ten-minute teaser trailer and sent it to famed director/producer Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). 'I was blown away," says Morgan Spurlock. 'It looked incredible, and Aisholpan's story is one of the most empowering stories I think you could ever hear." Morgan Spurlock helped Otto Bell find financing, gave him access to equipment, and he brought in veteran producer Stacey Reiss to guide the film through its two remaining shoots and post-production.

With financing secured, Otto Bell returned to Mongolia with the largest crew he had to date"four people, including a soundman, Andrew Yarme"to shoot the hunt scenes. Although the hunt looks like it takes place during one day, it actually took 22 days to film, as it was impossible for the crew to say out in the -40 weather for more than a few hours at a time. To make matters worse, Otto Bell broke his arm shortly before he left and had to cope with the bitter cold while wearing a cast. 'We dress warm for hunting," says Aisholpan, 'but it was not easy." Says Otto Bell: 'I bet the people making The Revenant had warm blankets. We did not. We had to light fires underneath the engine block of our van in order to get it to turn over. Our hands stuck to the tripods and everything metal. We were looking for wild foxes in the middle of the tundra, and Aisholpan's eagle was sometimes too frozen to fly aggressively."

The filmmakers were experiencing the arduous reality of eagle hunting"something that few people can endure or quite frankly, would want to endure. This is why Aisholpan's desire and ability to do it is so extraordinary. 'One day just for fun when we were finished filming, I sat on one of their horses with Aisholpan's eagle on my arm," says Stacey Reiss. 'I could barely hold my arm up"it's a very heavy bird. That alone is not easy to do, but when you see Aisholpan riding her horse at full gallop, it's incredible." Says Morgan Spurlock: 'It makes me really emotional to watch Aisholpan catch her eagle. There are things that you see that are such feats of human endeavour 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."

During the filming of the hunt, the team stayed in Altai Village, home of Dalaikhan, a long-time friend of Nurgaiv's. One of the things that had fascinated Bell the most about eagle hunters was their custom of giving their eagles back to nature after seven years. 'Dalaikhan told me that he'd had his eagle for almost eight years, so it was time for him to give it back," says Otto Bell. 'Even though he would normally do it in the spring, he agreed to do it in the winter. It was another one of the things that just fell into my lap on this film." Otto Bell liked the idea of defying expectations by using this scene to open the film. 'People expect that they are going to see a film about a really strong little girl, and what they see instead is a bloody sacrifice by an old man," he says. 'But I wanted to make an important point about the circle of life: After we see this scene, Aisholpan captures her eagle"you could say that an -old guard' is leaving and a young girl is picking up the baton."

Shortly before the film premiered at Sundance in January 2016, Star Wars was the topic of every conversation and Morgan Spurlock saw a link between Daisy Ridley's character 'Rey" and Aisholpan. '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 says. 'I think that this film resonates in that space in a massive way." Morgan Spurlock arranged to show Daisy Ridley the film, and Otto 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," says Otto Bell. 'And it was clear that she was going to be willing to help us promote it any way she could." Not only did Daisy Ridley come aboard as executive producer, she later recorded the narration for the theatrical version of the film.

Ultimately, The Eagle Huntress is not about Aisholpan breaking a barrier, picking up a prize at a festival, or proving a point to some crotchety old men. She is not the only eagle huntress in Central Asia, and she is not the only girl in Central Asia or the world who has accomplished something amazing. It's simply that after 12 generations of eagle hunters in her family passing on an ancient tradition from father to son, Aisholpan was the first girl to say 'I want to do this!" It never occurred to her that she couldn't be an eagle hunter, because her father and mother did not bring her up to think that way. In her sunny countenance, strength and courage, Aisholpan is a glowing metaphor for a world that refuses to say no to the soaring dreams of little girls. 'This entire journey is about her personal victory," says Otto Bell. 'That's why I end the film so quietly, with Aisholpan and her dad riding off into the sunset and heading home."

About Eagle Hunting

The word in Kazakh language for eagle is bürkit, so an eagle hunter is known as a bürkitshi, and the plural form for eagle hunters is bürkitshiler. Hunting with eagles has always been unique to Eurasia and it has only been practiced by the Kazakh and Kyrgz people.

The bürkitshiler hunt with golden eagles, one of the fastest moving animals on earth, capable of reaching speeds of up to 190 miles per hour. Interestingly, for an activity that has been pursued for centuries by men, the eagle hunters solely use females, because they are larger and fiercer. They weigh up to 15 pounds and average about 3 feet tall, with very broad wings that can span over 6 feet. Golden eagles kill their prey using their razor sharp talons, powerful enough to break bones. While they get their name from the golden colour on the nape of their neck, the adults are deep brown and the younger eagles are nearly black with white feathers on their wings.

The ancient methods of eagle hunters vary greatly, as each family has techniques and secrets handed down over generations, but there are typically five main aspects to the art: trapping, manning, training, hunting, and equipment making. Today you can add a sixth part, competing, as eagle hunters participate in festivals to match their skills against others.

Trapping requires that the bürkitshiler have extensive knowledge about the bird, from where it nests to what attributes"age, body and head size, shape of beak, etc."will make for the best hunters, plus the skills involved for a successful capture.

Manning is the process of taming the bird so it bonds with its master. Eagle hunters can be very affectionate with their birds, stroking their feathers and cooing at them, and even offering their fingers for the eagle to clean their beak, but it's rare that they give them names, and when they do, it is usually descriptive, like Aisholpan's 'White Wings."

Training often involves dragging ropes with animal skins, which is one of the events at the Eagle Festival. Some bürkitshiler start their eagles with small game and increase to larger animals; others start at low elevations and gradually move to greater heights.

Eagle hunting takes place in winter, usually from November through February, when it is easier to see the foxes and other prey against the snow. Taking part in a hunt is the rite-of-passage for a young bürkitshi, like Aisholpan. The main hunter stands at a great height to launch the bird. At ground level, another hunter (or hunters) charges towards the prey to flush it out into the open. Generally, the hunters use their golden eagles to hunt small animals like rabbits and marmots for food, and foxes for their fur. While eagles have been used to attack wolves, it is risky, as the bird can be hurt.

Finally, most bürkitshiler use wood, leather and needlecraft to build and decorate their own equipment, creating work of great artistry and imagination. The hunters protect their forearms from the eagle's powerful talons with a thick leather gauntlet called a byalai. The eagles wear a leather hood, called a tomagha, which keeps them calm, and are leashed by their ankles to a perch, using falconer's jesses. Eagle hunters ride their horses with their eagles perched on their right arms, propped up by a baldaq, a Y-shaped wooden rest that is attached to the saddle.

Falconry has been dated to the 3rd Century B.C. in the Chinese Han Dynasty, but not all scholars agree on when people on the Eurasian steppe first began hunting with eagles. Marco Polo wrote about Kublai Khan's (Genghis's grandson, 1215-1294) hunts with thousands of falconers, including golden eagles. We know that Kazakh nomads have done it for centuries, because their custom insists on a devout remembrance of genealogy. Aisholpan's father Nurgaiv knows the names of ten eagle hunters in his family before him"Aisholpan is the 12th generation.

During the years that Mongolia was under Communist rule (1924-1990), the practice of eagle hunting began to die out because the nomadic way of life was disrupted by political upheaval. After Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgystan became non-Communist in the 90s, eagle hunters sought to reclaim the traditions that had been discouraged under Soviet rule, and annual Eagle Festivals were set up in all three countries by the end of the century. The Golden Eagle Festival in Olgii, in which Aisholpan competed and won, was established in 1999.

Eagle hunting is currently practiced by Kazakhs in Bayon-Ölgii, Mongolia, as well as in Kazakhstan, and the Saur and Altai ranges in Xinjiang, China. The tradition is also kept up by the Kyrgz people in Kyrgyzstan and Akqi, Xinjiang, China, and the Turkmen in Turkmenistan.

In ancient times, eagle hunting had a religious, spiritual, or shamanistic connotation, but since its revival in recent years, it has become more of a cultural and nationalistic one, and its image can be found on money, flags, films, and music videos. Because of the growing fascination with the art both in Asia and the west, its practice is actually increasing"there are now many hundreds of eagle hunters in Bayan-Ölgii alone.

As is seen in the film, Kazakhs in 2016 do not need to use eagles to kill foxes in 2016"they own and use guns. 'They do it not quite as a sport, not quite as a job, but as something a little bit other, something that's hard to explain," says Dennis Keen, a Kazakhstan-based scholar who studies eagle hunters. 'For them, it's part of their culture, part of their way of life. It's a tradition. It makes them proud."

The Kazakhs

Kazakhs (aka Qazaqs) are descendants of nomads who have roamed the land between the Altai Mountains and the Black sea for centuries, herding sheep, goats, camels, yaks, horses, and cattle. The foundation of their society was tribes of extended families led by male elders.

In the mid-19th century, when the Taiping and Dungan rebellions pushed the Kazhaks from China into neighboring countries, Kazakhs started to settle in Bayan-Ölgii province in Western Mongolia, the area with the country's highest elevation. The Kazakhs in the area are mostly from the Kirei tribe, who have unique traditions, like the distinctive fox-fur hats they wear.

In 1911, Mongolia's leader Bogd Khan accepted them as citizens of Mongolia, and agreed to designate the area for them to settle. After Mongolia became a Communist country in 1924, leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan led a brutal purge of Kazakhs, Buddhists, and others, confiscating their properties and animals, and killing over 30,000 people. From 1947-1957, there were very harsh government directives for meat and other resources, from which the entire nation starved. In the late 1950s, after Choibalsan's death, impoverished Kazakhs and other herders donated their animals to the communist collectives. During all this political turmoil, nomadic ways of life were disrupted, and only came back into balance during the last decade of the 20th century.

When Kazakhstan declared independence in 1991, they welcomed all Kazakhs in diaspora to return. Over 70,000 Mongolian Kazakhs did so, and only 100,000 remain today. Kazakhs are still the largest ethnic minority in Mongolia, representing 4% of the population. They have their own Kazakh language, which belongs to the Turkic family of languages, and are predominantly Muslim, whereas the majority of Mongolians are Buddhist or non-religious. 90 percent of the Kazkhs live in Bayan-Ölgii, and the rest live mostly in Khovd Province and Ulaanbaatar, the nation's capital.

Today most Kazakh families are termed semi-nomadic because they only move seasonally, up to four times each year. Aisholpan's family move twice each year: they live in their ger during the spring and summer, and in a home constructed from wood, stone, and adobe during the fall and winter.

Very few Kazakhs still live in gers, but the structures have great importance in Kazakh and Mongolian culture and tradition. They are round structures of easily removable walls, poles and a ceiling covered with canvas and felt, tightened with ropes, designed to be sturdy enough for repeated dismantling and re-assemblage. Over many centuries, gers have been developed into perfect aerodynamic structures which can withstand Mongolia's strong winds.

Kazakh culture has traditionally had rigid ideas about the roles of men and women"men herd, and women cook and care for children. But as time has passed, Kazakh nomads, despite their physical isolation, have become increasing aware of and influenced by the modern world, including more progressive ideas about women. The 1924 constitution mandated equality of the sexes, and over the decades, there were more female university graduates than male. As urban Mongolian women fought deeply engrained sexism in the 1990s and became lawyers, politicians, film producers, authors, journalists, and athletes, word traveled to the countryside through family members, tourism, and technology like cell phones. Over time, attitudes about gender have begun to relax among some rural Kazakhs, like Aisholpan's family, although many deeply patriarchal customs endure.

However, it is likely that old Kazakh eagle hunters, like those seen in the film, will continue to resist the idea of female eagle hunters, no matter how much the world celebrates the extraordinary achievements of Kazakh eagle huntresses like Aisholpan and Makpal Abdrazakova, and any who are inspired to follow in their footsteps.

The Eagle Huntress
Release Date: March 16th, 2017



 
 
 



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