Aisholpan Nurgaiv is a soft-spoken, 15-year-old Kazakh girl with a bright, shy smile, a competitive streak and a rare skill: she hunts from horseback with the aid of her 10-kilogram golden eagle.
As profiled in Otto Bell’s stunning Mongolia-set documentary The Eagle Huntress, screening in the TIFF Kids program, Aisholpan pushes past 1,000 years of male tradition to become the first female champion eagle hunter.
Early on in the film, narrated by Daisy Ridley, then-13-year-old Aisholpan goes with her father Nurgaiv Rys to perform a key ritual for an eagle hunter: the capture of an eaglet to train as a hunting partner.
That done, coached by her father — one of 12 generations of eagle hunters in their family — Aisholpan is brave, skilled in handling the huge bird and has unwavering determination to excel. She is focused on besting the older men in the region who doubt her, sure she can win first place at an annual competition.
Later, she participates in a gruelling winter hunt, the first girl in her family to do so.