A young Mongolian girl has broken through gender barriers by learning how to hunt with golden eagles (an activity traditionally practiced by men in her culture) – and her story has made its way to the Sundance film festival. Aisholpan previously turned heads in a series of photographs, fearlessly taking on the male-dominated tradition, and now she’s gaining international recognition on the big screen – and she was just honored in a Comanche naming ceremony in Utah.
Inspired by the images captured by photographer Asher Svidensky, director Otto Bell knew there was an opportunity to continue telling the story of this young woman. The pair flew to the remote Mongolian mountains where Aisholpan and her family live and were surprised to be greeted with an invitation to join and film Aisholpan as she took on her first challenge in becoming an eagle huntress: stealing a baby eagle from its nest sitting precariously on the side of a cliff. “Not a lot of documentary filmmakers get this chance. It’s a rare opportunity to be there right at the beginning of a story arc,” said Bell.
The film also follows Aisholpan in her quest to show her merit to 70 to 80 male competitors at an eagle festival. In a tradition spanning at least 2,000 years she is the only known female to train and practice eagle hunting. The film is now showing at Sundance, which brought Aisholpan and her family to the US. She was also honored in a Comanche naming ceremony in Park City and posed for some photos with an eagle, yet she says her eagle, named White Wings, is a little bit larger.
How does Aisholpan react to the buzz about her lately? With the committed support of her family, she recognizes the impact of what she is doing and the simplicity of basic equality. She says, ”Girls and boys are the same strong. So, if the boy can do something, girls can do this as well.”