GOOD

A 15-Year-Old Girl Becomes The First “Eagle Huntress” Of Her Tribe

A gorgeous documentary follows her bold and controversial journey

Aisholpan and White Wings. (Photo by Asher Svidensky) Sony Pictures Classics

The Eagle Huntress, a soaring documentary about a 13-year-old Mongolian girl who learns to hunt with a golden eagle, opens with an idea. The filmmakers claim that Aisholpan, in all her glory, is the first of her kind. It turns out there have been others. And Otto Bell, the film’s director, may have mistakenly taken criticism from local elders as 2000 years of patriarchy, smashing against Aisholpan’s achievements.


Instead, the comments ended up being isolated grumblings from some of the local neighbors.

These foibles only accentuate Aisholpan’s extraordinary journey to becoming the first female eagle hunter in her family. A brave young girl attempting to conquer eagle hunting—a tough task and a large part of the local Kazakh nomad culture that remains integral to the tribe’s survival—is a compelling story even with these minor errors.

As the Kazakh proverb says, “A fast horse and a soaring eagle are the wings of a nomad.” And in their culture of movement, Western ways of looking at plots and stories can shift under your feet.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]I think what modern technology allows you to do is really just catching people by surprise[/quote]

The beginnings of The Eagle Huntress\n

(Photo by Asher Svidensky) Sony Pictures Classics

“She’s more of a physical persona than a verbal one,” director Otto Bell explains about the cherubic star of The Eagle Huntress. “It took some time to build a rapport.” Aisholpan, the shy hero of the tale, needed to warm up to Bell and his crew; the scenes of their blossoming friendship help create the story of a young girl growing into conquering her dream.

Bell’s quest to locate Aisholpan began in 2014 when the director saw an article in the BBC Magazine about Aisholpan and the lives of her Kazakh tribe in the Altai mountain range in Central Asia. The story captivated him enough to hunt down Asher Svidensky, the story’s photographer, in hopes of being introduced to Aisholpan’s family.

“We had a Skype,” he says. “Then, very quickly, he sent word to the family that we were going to come and talk to them about making a film or at least understanding a bit more about their culture.”

Bell hopped a flight to Moscow, then took a connecting flight to Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, where he and his team piled into a small twin engine plane for the trek up the mountain. He’d make seven more trips like that to complete The Eagle Hunter. By the end, he was nearly broke.

He was also facing a minor backlash. The final film, including narration by Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley, has garnered widespread critical praise and is nominated for a BAFTA (British Academy of Film And Television Arts) Award. But it is not nominated for an Oscar, and The Boston Globe panned the film, accusing Otto and his team of reducing a complicated story into easily digestible Hollywood pastiche. Others have also claimed the documentary is too good to be true. Worse, they’ve stated Bell and his team scripted the action, a claim he flatly denies.

“I think what modern technology allows you to do is really just catching people by surprise,” he explains. “I can tell you wholeheartedly that what you see on the screen is what we got.”

Otto and Aisholpan’s Journey

Aisholpan and Director Otto Bell at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images)

What is true is that Bell’s arrival in Mongolia could not have been better timed. He stumbled into the nascent beginnings of Aisholpan’s attempt to conquer eagle hunting with her bird, White Wings. Winters are daunting, with temperatures routinely dropping down to -40 F. Hunts involve trekking several days into the snowy winter to a clearing where prey, such as wild foxes, can be spotted. Hunters work in teams, first dispatching a group to distract the animal before releasing the eagle to do the rest. Once sent to hunt, the eagle makes its decisions on the best approach to take down the prey.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]I can tell you wholeheartedly that what you see on the screen is what we got[/quote]

The result is a mind meld of human intuition and animal bonding, and the relationship between bird and human is sacred, so they get released at the end of their service in the spring. As part of the ceremony, a sheep is butchered and placed as a thank you to the bird, who's a member of the family.

“We were very lucky to be able to film in live action,” Bell says. “To be there right at the start of the story and be able to follow it through to the end, you don’t often get that opportunity in a documentary.”

But there is more to the story of Aisholpan and White Wings than a stone cold assassin turned woman’s best friend. She is excited that the rest of the world will be able to witness her culture and their traditions, despite some members of her tribe being less than enthusiastic about her being an eagle huntress.

“Before I had some people who disagreed, were jealous. My dad’s friends too,” she explains via email. “But, now, my people call me ‘our little hero’ and they say they are proud of me.”

A girl spreads her wings

The film uses stunning images of the Central Asian steppes. (Photo by Asher Svidensky) Sony Pictures Classics

Toward the end of the film, Aisholpan arrives at a festival called the Ulgii. There, she shows precise ease and depth of skill with White Wings and goes on to win her first Eagle Hunter competition. The victory instantly becomes the center of the feel-good documentary. But it also shows the blossoming relationship with her father, a 12th generation eagle hunter. When asked about her father she says, “I have a good relationship with my parents. I listen to them. They are the one who brought me to this success.”

And what success it’s been. Otto revealed to us that he cut Aisholpan in on the film’s purse. She wants to be a surgeon, and the money will go toward allowing her to learn medicine anywhere in the world. The family is meeting Bell in London in the spring to attend his wedding.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]To be there right at the start of the story and be able to follow it through to the end, you don’t often get that opportunity in a documentary.[/quote]

So with her, the line of Eagle Huntresses continues, even if she is the first in 12 generations in her tribe. The egalitarianism of Kazakh culture ensures their survival—particularly since climate change roars in to threaten their way of life.

Winters are growing noticeably more difficult in the mountains, and entire herds can get wiped out overnight in a severe storm. Members of her community have had to head into the city to seek a life. Despite this, Aisholpan trusts the strength of their tribal traditions to survive.

“The kinship between Golden Eagle and my ancestors continued for 2000 years,” she says. “It did not change no matter how their lives change. It’s the same for me.”

Sports
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet