One of the nice surprises of this awards season has been the The Eagle Huntress, which is starting to feel like “the little movie that could” since its debut way back at Sundance last January. The documentary is about a 13-year-old girl in Mongolia, Aisholpan, who is training to be an eagle hunter – a traditionally male tradition. And, yes, she’s met with (to put it kindly) many skeptics.
Last week, publicist Peggy Siegal held an afternoon tea in the film’s honor at Manhattan’s Plaza Athénée, including a talk between noted hunting bird enthusiast, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and the film’s director, Otto Bell.
(As an aside, when I first arrived I noticed a huge owl and immediately took a picture while saying something like, “Ohhh, an owl!” I then later realized the man holding the owl was Robert Kennedy Jr. I then later found out they brought an owl instead of an eagle because an eagle can kill a human by piercing the skull with its talons. So there’s that.)
As the press tour for The Eagle Huntress reaches a full year, it’s striking to watch a film about this family who lives in such a remote part of the world and contrast that with this whirlwind tour they’ve been on to promote the film. They were first in Park City, Utah last January. Then I got an opportunity to meet the Eagle Huntress herself at an event at the Toronto Film Festival. They’ve since seen the ocean for the first time while in Los Angeles (and rode a roller coaster) and then visited the desert while in Qatar.
After the event, I spoke to director Otto Bell and asked about Aisholpan and her family’s whirlwind world tour. (And he gave me a photo of the family riding a roller coaster for the first time.)
“I took them to the ocean for the first time in Santa Monica,” says Bell. “They had never seen the ocean before, I so I took them to the ocean and we splashed around. We then went up on the pier and went on the roller coaster for the first time. I hate roller coasters! She loved it. I actually have a photograph, I’ve got it if you want to see it.”
Bell continues, “You know how she’s this physical, winning person? You know those games that are supposed to be rigged on the pier? She won all of those. And then was so surprised when she got this five-foot teddy bear. It got its own seat back to Mongolia.”
Bell then shared a story about their trip to Qatar for a film festival (where they wound up winning an award for the film). “We went out to Qatar, we won that film festival, actually, but one of the sheiks was really taken with the story and the film and invited them out to his palace in the desert to go falcon hunting with him. He has like 300 falcons.”
What does the future hold for Aisholpan? Bell has made it clear that with the success of the film, she will be well taken care of financially. Bell adds, “I think she’s very keen to study abroad. She wants to go to college and learn medicine in a foreign country – and I think that will happen for her. My hope is that they have options. They’ve enjoyed the traveling, but they haven’t chosen to move to the city or anything like that.”
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