One of the challenges of being a documentarian is having to be ready for anything, and so it was when Otto Bell first met Aisholpan Nurgaiv, the subject of his inspiring documentary, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS. After tracking down Aisholpan in Mongolia with only a photo do go by, Bell’s first meeting involved departing almost as once to accompany the 13-year-old and her father as they scaled steep cliffs in search of an eaglet for Aisholpan to train.
Our conversation just before his doc screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and covered discovering that a member of his crew was afraid of heights, what he told his day job when the time came for him to travel to the least populated part of the least populated country on earth, and the almost supernatural bond that developed between Aisholpan and the eaglet she raised to be her partner in the hunt. He also discussed the dichotomy between Aisholpan’s fiercely competitive nature, and her unexpected shyness.
The documentary follows this determined 13-year-old Mongolian girl as she challenges societal norms by becoming an eagle huntress, from training the eaglet she snatches from its nest days before it fledges, to competing in the national eagle hunting championships under baleful eyes of some of the older male competitors, to proving the mettle of both herself and her eagle by hunting fox in the dead of winter under freezing conditions. Aisholpan is by turns shy, exuberant, fierce, and nurturing as she is shown to be a typical schoolgirl and a revolutionary trailblazer.