‘You are awesome.’ These are words that every 13-year-old girl needs to hear from her dad. They’re much more helpful than ‘You are pretty’ or ‘You are nice.’ The dad doing the verbal high-fiving in this inspiring doc is Agalai, a Mongolian eagle hunter. Eagle hunting is a tribal tradition that goes back 2,000 years among Kazakh nomadic men, who ride out on horseback with an eagle across the frozen Central Asian steppes to catch foxes and rabbits. It’s a father-and-son thing. But enlightened Agalai understands that his pigtailed teenage daughter Aisholpan has the grit and talent to be a hunter.
Aisholpan is one of life’s trailblazers – a feminist pioneer who would never in a million years think about herself in those terms. But hardwired inside her is the belief that girls can do anything boys can; and she’s got the iron will to prove it. Eagle hunting essentially involves riding a horse like the clappers holding a piece of raw meat while a golden eagle flies at you at 30 miles an hour, knife-sharp talons poised. It’s thrilling, and you can see why actress Daisy Ridley – tough heroine Rey in ‘Star Wars: A Force Awakens’ – signed up to narrate the film.
After her training, Aisholpan’s dad takes her to the national championships, where she’s the first ever female competitor. What’s interesting is how standard sexism is across cultures. A bunch of miserable male eagle hunters dismiss Aisholpan: ‘Women are supposed to stay indoors’ and ‘They get cold.’ Then, when she starts winning, they switch tactic, the hypocrites:‘It helps that she’s a girl’ – as if somehow that explains her skills. You want to know more about what Aisholpan is thinking behind that shy determined smile. But that’s not her way. You can imagine her as the gutsy heroine of a Disney animation.