FlixChatter Review: The Eagle Huntress (2016)

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Director: Otto Bell
Runtime: 101 min

This was one of my most-anticipated documentary of the year, so when it played at TCFF in October I was beyond thrilled. I had never seen eagle hunter doing their thing on screen, let alone an eagle huntress. It’s a world rarely explored on films, and for that reason alone I was excited to see it.

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. It seems apt that the documentary is narrated by Daisy Ridley, the bad-ass star of Star Wars‘ spinoff The Force Awakens. Within minutes, I was in awe of the beauty of the Mongolian landscape. This is perhaps one of the most beautifully-shot films I’ve ever seen, not just of this year. Not sure what the production budget was, but it certainly looks extremely-well made. I’d jokingly call it eagle-porn for all the stunning sequence of the majestic bird flying in the air, but the most incredible shots are during Aisholpan’s training to catch the bird.

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As the title role, Aisholpan effortlessly won my heart. She has such a great screen presence and charming personality. Growing up in a patriarchal community in a nomadic family, she’s very close to her eagle-hunter father, who often takes her eagle hunting. It’s no surprise that she wants to follow in his footsteps and despite the objections of the community elders who insist that eagle-hunting is a man’s job, her dad fully supports her. If you’re a parent, especially dads, this is a great film to take with your kids. The relationship between Aisholpan and her dad is genuinely heart-warming.

A key scene when Aisholpan and her dad had to snatch a 3-month-old eagle chick from its nets up high in the mountain is quite an adrenaline rush. Aisholpan’s dad literally had to dangle his daughter on a rope over a cliff during a particularly windy day. I’d imagine it’s a tricky job even for a man, let alone a young girl! But Aisholpan defied the odds and she proved the naysayers wrong time and time again as she also triumphed in eagle-hunting competition. But what I admire about Aisholpan is not just her talents and tenacity. Despite being a bit of a tomboy, she also embraced her femininity, as the film shows her wearing a bow and painting her nails. She thrives in a man’s world but she’s still very much a girl and enjoys being one.

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A good documentary immerses you in an exotic world that’s completely foreign to you and The Eagle Huntress certainly did that for me. I love the moments between Aisholpan and her eagle (the one she caught off the cliff) and how she’d talk to her the way a kid would talk to their pet cat or dog. There’s also scenes of her with her girlfriends, most of which don’t exactly share her passion for eagle hunting. It’s truly an insightful, entertaining and emotional experience watching this movie. Apparently director Otto Bell moved Heaven and Earth’ to finish this film as he said in this TIFF interview. I’m glad he did and thanks to him we got to know such an amazing and inspiring story. Kudos to cinematographer Simon Niblett in filming the stunning mountainous Kazhak wilderness, as well as capturing some of the intimate moments in Aisholpan’s journey. They used GoPro cameras to film much of the eagle-hunting action and they’re an absolute blast to watch.

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I’d have rated this film higher if it weren’t for the inaccuracies about Aisholpan being the first eagle huntress. As it turns out she’s also not the only eagle huntress around at present time and that the opposition to her vocation might’ve been exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Now, I wish the filmmaker had been truthful in presenting the story, as I don’t think the fact that there are other eagle huntress lessen the power of Aisholpan’s story. I still think she’s an extraordinary young girl whose story deserves to be told. If you’re curious to read it, this article talks about the real truth of female eagle huntress in Mongolian Kazakh society.

That said, I still highly recommend this film. Perhaps it’s more of a narrative than a documentary, but still it’s a wonderful, uplifting story that’s skillfully-told. A soaring film in every sense of the word. The visuals will no doubt wow you, but it’s the adorable & charismatic Aisholpan who’ll run away with your heart.

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Have you seen The Eagle Huntress? Let me know what you think!

Five Movies. Five Words – Vol. 5

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Well, it’s been more than a year since I did the last edition of Five Movies in Five Words. Seems that the only blog series I managed to keep up with is Five for the Fifth 🙂

I really should do this more often, maybe a few times a year, as it’s a fun challenge to capture the essence of a film, or whatever that comes to mind when I think of that film, in just a single word. As a general *rule* I’m picking films (old or new) I saw in the last few months that I haven’t had the chance to review yet.

So here we go:

The Eagle Huntress (2016)
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LION (2016)5movies_liontearjerking

Cairo Time (2009)
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The Shallows (2016)
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Allied (2016)
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Have you seen any of these? How would YOU describe them in one word?

OCTOBER 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

Am I the only one still in disbelief it’s November already?? But I’m glad the temp hasn’t dipped that much yet, this week’s still gonna be in the mid 50s to 60 degrees, which is much warmer than usual, yay!

Well, it’s no surprise October is the busiest month for me, thanks to TCFF! I also managed to squeeze in a few new releases before the film fest started. Suffice to say I saw the most films in October than any other month!

Here are movies I saw in October:

New-to-me Movies

The Girl On A Train

accountant_imgThe Accountant

certainwomen_imgCertain Women

jackreacher2_imgJack Reacher: Never Go Back

TCFF Movies

bloodstripe_imgBlood Stripe

architect_imgThe Architect

funeralday_imgFuneral Day

pursuitsilence_imgIn Pursuit Of Silence

junefallingdown_imgJune Falling Down

milesbetweenus_imgMiles Between Us

scientologymovie_imgMy Scientology Movie

prisondogs_imgPrison Dogs

wordofhonour_imgWord of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise


I haven’t reviewed these films below I saw at TCFF. Some because of a studio embargo until their local release date, and some because I simply haven’t got around to writing them. I shall try to do so in the coming weeks, but honestly, I need a bit of a blogging break.

Sweet LandThe Eagle HuntressIron Will
Burn Country | 
No Light and No Land AnywhereTrespass Against Us
Claire in Motion11:55Actors of Sound
Free CeceLion | Moonlight


The Last King (2003 TV miniseries)

Earlier this month I also got to see this miniseries, directed by Joe Wright and starring the immensely watchable Rufus Sewell. It’s the chronicle of Charles II’s time on the throne, his 10 year exile from Oliver Cromwell’s England, and his triumphant return. I haven’t finished it yet but hopefully later this month, as you know I have a penchant for period dramas starring gorgeous Brits 😉

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MOVIE(S) OF THE MONTH

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We’ve got a tie this month! It’s tough enough to pick just TWO favorites of the month, let alone one. But these two moved me more than others and the ones I keep thinking about days after. Not only do these two feature excellent storytelling and performances, they’re also groundbreaking in many ways. It’s so rare to see female soldiers being depicted on screen, it’s even more scarce to see a good depiction of them the way Blood Stripe did.

As for Moonlight, I honestly have never seen Black sexuality/masculinity depicted in this way and it struck me just how beautiful and nuanced the story was. I’m also impressed by the casting of the protagonist, utilizing three different actors in three main stages of his life. Lets just say this film is worth the hype.


Well that’s my viewing recap of OCTOBER. What’s YOUR favorite film(s) of the month?

Musings on the TCFF 2016 Award finalists … championing indie films & women in film

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I haven’t had even an hour to blog all day today as I was watching films, interviewing talents and socializing at the mixer at the beautiful festival lounge at the Shoppes at West End. My head is still spinning as I’m writing this… my body is exhausted but my spirits are high from the exhilaration of meeting so many great people. My day started with an a delightful interview with actor Dominic Rains, and got to meet Jon Weinberg (the director and star of Funeral Day) whom I had interviewed the night before. Then in the afternoon I got to meet the director of The Babymoon Bailey Kobe, as well as Kate Sloate who’s in the film’s producing team. I will post more pictures in my wrap post!

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I stopped by TCFF lounge for a couple of hours, which was even busier as the night went on. For sure the closing night party tomorrow will be a blast, and I sure wouldn’t want to miss the Award Ceremony!

Speaking of award, Twin Cities Film Fest has announced the TCFF award finalists a few days ago here. I’m so thrilled for so many of these indie filmmakers, whether it’s shorts, features or documentaries, that their hard work are being recognized. For many of them, their indie films are their sweat, blood and tears… as most of these films are made with shoestring budgets. This is why I LOVE covering TCFF, as I get to see more indie films than I otherwise would in a given month! As I meet filmmakers and talents, it’s apparent to see that the limited budget/resources just made them more innovative and creative! This is why I will always support indie films and indie filmmakers!!

2016 TCFF FINALISTS

Best Feature Film:

  • “Blood Stripe,” directed by Remy Auberjonois
  • “Burn Country,” directed by Ian Olds
  • “First Girl I Loved,” directed by Kerem Sanga
  • “Lion,” directed by Garth Davis
  • “Moonlight,” directed by Barry Jenkins.

Best Documentary:

  • “Denial,” directed by Derek Hallquist
  • “The Eagle Huntress,” directed by Otto Bell
  • “Free CeCe!” directed by Jacqueline Gares
  • “I Do?” directed by Joe Brandmeier
  • “IRON WILL: Veteran’s Battle with PTSD,” directed by Sergio Valenzuela.

Best Short Film:

  • “Duffy’s Jacket,” directed by Brian Hoesing
  • “I Want You Inside Me,” directed by Alice Shindelar
  • “Lend a Hand For Love,” directed by John and Amy Thompson
  • “The Story,” directed by Cameron Digwall and Carolyn Pender
  • “Twinsburg,” directed by Joe Garrity.

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Feature Film:

  • “Claire in Motion,” directed by Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson
  • “The Eyes of My Mother,” directed by Nicolas Pesce
  • “Girl Flu,” directed by Dorie Barton
  • “June Falling Down,” directed by Rebecca Weaver
  • “No Light and No Land Anywhere,” directed by Amber Sealey

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Non-Fiction Film:

  • “In Pursuit of Silence,” directed by Patrick Shen
  • “IRON WILL: Veteran’s Battle with PTSD,” directed by Sergio Valenzuela
  • “Prison Dogs,” directed by Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz
  • “Tarkovsky: Time Within Time,” directed by PJ Letofsky
  • “They Call Us Monters,” directed by Ben Lear

Indie Vision — Breakthrough Performance:

  • “Blood Stripe,” Breakthrough: Actress Kate Nowlin
  • “Donald Cried,” Breakthrough: Actor Kris Avedisian
  • “First Girl I Loved,” Breakthrough: Director Kerem Sanga
  • “Hunky Dory,” Breakthrough: Actor Tomas Pais
  • “The Other Kids,” Breakthrough: Director Chris Brown
  • “Lend a Hand For Love,” Breakthrough: Directors John and Amy Thompson
  • “Moonlight,” Breakthrough: Writer Barry Jenkins.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Lea Thompson

I’m so glad I got to chat with Lea when she was in town last month for TCFF gala. I also got to interview Jim Hemphill whose wonderfully-crafted drama The Trouble With The Truth was screened at one of TCFF’s Insider Series!

In addition to the staff and audience awards, the 2016 event is also bestowing two North Star Awards to visiting actors Tim Guinee (in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Sweet Land”) and Dominic Rains (starring in three TCFF films now touring the festival circuit — the James Franco-Melissa Leo mystery “Burn Country” screening Saturday night, the neo-noir thriller “The Loner” screening Friday, and the dark comedy “Funeral Day” showing Saturday morning).


Now, I haven’t seen all of the films nominated, as there are only so many hours in a day and I still had to work at my full time job the first week of TCFF. But of the ones I have seen, I definitely agree with most of the choices! I’m especially thrilled to see SO may female filmmakers and talents being represented AND recognized. I think people who read my blog and connected w/ me on Twitter know that I’m not only a big champion of indie films, but also women in film! It’s clear that indie films are the place for women and diverse talents thrive… so I’m glad I got to see many of them thanks to TCFF!

Whether in front of or behind the camera, it always perks me up to see women storytellers, creating and/or portraying multi-dimensional, fully fleshed-out female characters and bringing their stories to life. One of my all time favorite performances is Kate Nowlin in Blood Stripeand having chatted with her in person, she is an inspiration both on and off screen!

Both Prison Dogs and The Eagle Huntress have become two of my all time favorite documentaries! I can’t review the latter until mid November where it’s released here in Minnesota, but I can’t recommend it enough. I guarantee you’d fall in love with 13-year-old Aisholpan who defied the odds to become a champion eagle huntress!

mnwiftIt’s always a blast hanging out with friends and new people you meet at TCFF lounge. But tonight is especially awesome as I got to hang out with two ladies from Minnesota Women in Film and Television (MN WIFT), Joanne Liebeler and Deborah Fiscus. I love their positive energy and warm personality, it’s always encouraging and inspiring to be around such wonderful people!

I feel so blessed to have met to these smart, accomplished, yet warm & lovely ladies, so thank you to my pal Kirsten Gregerson for introducing us! I’m definitely going to join the organization and learn from local women who work in film, television, and new media in Minnesota.

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with MN WIFT’s Joanne, Deborah and my pal Kirsten Gregerson

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Well, tomorrow is the last day of TCFF already! It’s a jam-packed closing day with three gala screenings: LION, Moonlight AND Burn Country, with its star Dominic Rains attending!

I’ll be seeing FOUR movies tomorrow, starting with the documentary on foley artists, Actors Of Sound at 10:15AM, which ends with the closing film Moonlight at 8:30PM! I’m writing this past midnight and in dire need of sleep, but I’m excited for what’s in store for me tomorrow!

 


Twin Cities Film Fest (Oct 19-29): The 2016 lineup is here!

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The Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) is thrilled to announce its captivating and critically-lauded lineup for the 2016 festival. The 11-day marathon, running October 19 – October 29 and showcasing 100+ films, will for the first time expand to a second city; in addition to its core screenings and red carpet parties at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End in St. Louis Park, the 7th annual TCFF will also feature a second screening series at the IFP Theater in St. Paul.

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Kate Nowlin – Blood Stripe

This year’s Opening Night film, Blood Stripe, is sponsored by Stephanie Dillon and will launch TCFF’s 2016 Social Cause: Military Veteran Mental and Physical Support. This locally-filmed PTSD drama directed by Remy Auberjonois, starring Kate Nowlin and top prize winner at the Los Angeles Film Festival, is a story of the trials and tribulations facing a returned female combat veteran and her intense battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Four other veteran-related films have been selected to screen as part of TCFF’s “Changemaker Series,” including IRON Will: Veterans’ Battle with PTSD, a Billy Bob Thornton-narrated documentary produced by Minnesota native Tim VandeSteeg that will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 22.

The official 2016 Centerpiece will be the Sundance Film Festival hit The Eagle Huntress (narrated by Daisy Ridley), which follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl in Mongolia, as she trains to become the first female in 2,000 years to successfully hunt with a Golden Eagle. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 24.

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Just some of the great films playing this year!

Two of the mostly highly acclaimed films coming out of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival will be making their regional premieres at TCFF. The critical sensation Moonlight will be the TCFF Closing Night film on Oct. 29 — a coming-of-age story about a young man in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era who finds himself coping with a dysfunctional home life. The story of his struggle to find himself, told across three defining chapters in his life as he experiences the ecstasy, pain, and beauty of falling in love while grappling with his own sexuality, has been hailed by some critics as the year’s best screenplay.

Lion, also screening Oct. 29, is the story of 5-year-old Saroo who gets lost on a train which takes him thousands of kilometers across India, away from home and family. Saroo must learn to survive alone in Kolkata, before ultimately being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty five years later, armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination, and a revolutionary technology known as Google Earth, he sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.
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The festival will also include the family fantasy Trolls, the Michael Fassbender thriller Trespass Against Us, the Parker Posey comedy The Architect, the James Franco, Melissa Leo, Dominic Rains crime drama Burn Country and the documentaries My Scientology Movie, The Trans List and In Pursuit of Silence, which discovers that the second quietest place on Earth is a specially designed room in downtown Minneapolis.


tcffpasses

Tickets are now available for Members and Pass Holders. Tickets will open up to the general public this Friday, September 30th. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit twincitiesfilmfest.org

I’ll definitely be blogging more about TCFF in the coming weeks, especially in October leading up to the film fest itself!


Thoughts on 2016 TCFF lineup? Which of these movies have you been anticipating?