The Eagle Huntress.

Director Otto Bell. 2016

This outstanding documentary shows a young Mongolian girl breaking with the traditional male preserve of eagle hunting. We’re fascinated by her joyous connection with her eagle, the harsh environment, her father who trains her; and as we sit, centrally-heated and post feminist, we’re amused by the elders’ grumpy opposition.

We glimpse other aspects of her life: her schooling, her brothers spotlighting text with a torch, their tented home with its interior, rich with Chinese and Russian influenced hangings. In winter it’s all packed onto a lorry, the eagle perched on a teetering pile of possessions.

There are two versions of how the film came to be made. In one, Otto was filming a young boy, then heard about the girl and changed tack. In the other, an image of the girl appears inexplicably on his screen and he rushes over to Mongolia. This film needs no hype. It’s real and extraordinary.

Mongolia is a country lying magically on the borders of our everyday consciousness, as strange as Ethiopia was to the ancient Greeks. The landscape is unlike any I have seen before: its vast, moon-like, ice-bound plains and stern, snow-clad mountains stretch into unimaginable distances. It’s Otto Bell’s first full-length film, and beautifully shot in conditions which at times restricted filming to two hours a day, and in a landscape where even the doughty Mongolian horses skitter on ice and swim through snow drifts. There’s nothing La La about this land.

Showing at Kino-Teatr 4th and 8th February.

Simone Witney

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