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'Eagle Huntress' director Otto Bell on the documentary that pretty much wrote itself

Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky
Asher Svidensky

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Wednesday, a new documentary about a remarkable young woman takes flight. 

The Eagle Huntress is narrated by actress Daisy Ridley and follows a Kazakh girl named Aishol-pan. When the film begins, Aishol-pan is 13 and beginning a journey to become the first female in twelve generations of her family to become an eagle hunter.

The Eagle Huntress was directed by Otto Bell. He recently sat down with Take Two's Alex Cohen to talk about what it took to capture Aishol-pan's story. 


How did you find out about Aishol-pan?

I was lucky enough to see a photo essay published on the BBC online featuring some photographs by a young Israeli photographer called Asher Svidensky. There was one image in particular that led the article that really seized a hold of me: it's a picture of Aishol-pan releasing her father's eagle from the mountain top in the Alti region of Northwest Mongolia.

I was sitting in my cubicle in New York when I saw it, and I thought, my gosh, somewhere in the world that girl is walking around, she's talking, she's — hopefully —  smiling and enjoying herself. Surely there's a film behind that photograph.

Which you say so confidently now. And yet you don't know so many things going into it. You were able to contact this Israeli photographer, get connected with Aishol-pan and her family; you travel to Mongolia and your very first day you're kind of just dropped right into it. What did her father say to you that kind of got this whole film rolling?

We were sitting in their ger, which is the Mongolian yurt, and we were floating the idea of maybe making a documentary and her father stood up and said, well, this afternoon, we're going to go and steal an eagle off the mountainside for Aishol-pan. Is that the sort of thing you'd like to film?

Moves a little faster there than it does in Hollywood typically. She doesn't seem phased by the fact that everyone around her is saying there's no place for a young woman in this world. Did you ever see any moments behind the scenes where she felt intimidated by the fact that people didn't want her doing this?

No. I will say I think in the early days, her father insulated her from the gossip and the nastiness, some of the slights that might have come her way, but that sort of evaporated when she went to the annual eagle festival. It was pretty clear there that some of the men weren't happy about her being there or thought it was some kind of stunt for the tourists or something like that.

And this is a big competition. It's like the world series. This is a big deal in Mongolia, and people come from all over the place to compete. Once people were able to see her in action, do you feel like it changed hearts and minds at any level?

I think it started to turn the tide. I did the second round of interviews after she won. Initially, some of the elders in the region simply couldn't fathom the idea of a woman stepping into this world. After she performed so well at the festival, they sort of threw down a fresh laundry list of excuses as to why she fared so well.

They also threw down a fresh challenge, almost in a way to disqualify her accomplishments.

Press the blue play button to hear the full interview.

(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)