Tag Archives: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Interview: Daisy Ridley, director Otto Bell talk ‘The Eagle Huntress’

Sony Pictures Classics

Fortunately for director Otto Bell, not one, but two powerful forces came together for his thrilling new documentary “The Eagle Huntress”  a force of nature embodied by a teenage Mongolian girl and an actress who harnessed the power of “The Force” in the biggest film of 2015.

Now playing in select cities and expanding to more theaters Friday, “The Eagle Huntress” examines the time-honored tradition of eagle hunting in Mongolia and how 13-year-old Aisholpan Nurgaiv works to defy the conventions of a practice only reserved for fathers and sons. If she’s successful, Aisholpan will become the first female eagle hunter in 12 generations of her Kazakh family.

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The film is narrated and executive produced by Daisy Ridley, the breakout star of the international blockbuster “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” The opportunity to get involved with “The Eagle Huntress” couldn’t have come at a crazier time for Ridley, but despite her commitments to that galaxy far, far away, she was compelled to make time for the project.

“I was in the throes of the production of ‘Episode VII’ when my agent sent me the film, saying, ‘It’s amazing and all about empowerment,’” said Ridley, accompanied by Bell, in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. “I saw it and I was incredibly moved, and asked how I could become involved.”

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Ridley came on board “The Eagle Huntress” in January, just in time for the documentary’s film festival run. Bell said the moment he learned of Ridley’s commitment to “The Eagle Huntress” is one he won’t soon forget.

“It was the night before the film’s debut at Sundance, and I had terrible butterflies in my stomach and I got this lovely phone call,” Bell said. “When I spoke to Daisy, it was clear to me that she was picking out corners of the film that only I had cared about. It was very clear to me that she had studied it and had been very moved by it.”

Running start

Bell first met with Aisholpan’s family about filming “The Eagle Huntress” on July 4, 2014. The meeting was a serendipitous one, since it was the day the girl and her father were about to find her the eaglet that would become her hunting companion in the film. Even though Bell and his crew weren’t expecting to start shooting that day, he knew that such a pivotal moment in an eagle hunter’s life was one that couldn’t be missed.

“We were having tea and her father stood up and said, ‘We’re going to steal an eagle from the mountainside this afternoon. Do you think it’s something you would want to film?'” Bell recalled. “Of course, we jumped at the chance. We weren’t exactly ready to start with the production, but we had to get that shot since there was such of a slim window to film it in, and we happened to be lucky enough to be on the ground for it.”

Bell especially feels fortunate that he was able to capture Aisholpan’s story as it was unfolding — a rare opportunity for any documentarian.

“So often with documentaries you’re filling in the blanks,” Bell said. “Something has already happened and you’re using archive footage, retrospective interviews and the like to fill those in. In this case, we were lucky enough to be there from the start of her journey. Her first step to becoming an eagle hunter always begins with the young apprentice stealing the baby from the nest and we were right there on the spot to film it.”

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From there, Bell captured on film the rest of Aisholpan’s major milestones: the training of her eagle for a revered, annual festival where all eagle hunters compete, and the final step and going out and hunting in the frigid winter to graduate to full eagle huntress.

While Ridley’s path in life couldn’t be any more different from Aisholpan’s, there was a common bond that had resonated with the film star.

“There are similarities with my family because Aisholpan is part of an incredibly supportive family,” Ridley said. “In particular, in the film we see the relationship between her and her father, and the kids are so encouraging. In that respect I felt a resemblance to my own life with my parents and my sisters.”

Ridley’s participation in “The Eagle Huntress” says a lot about the character of the 24-year-old London native. Coming off a role in one of the biggest box office hits in movie history, Ridley could have easily opted for a big payday in any number of scripts that landed on her desk after “Star Wars” — yet she immediately committed to a smaller-scale production that she believed in.

“Going forward, the thing I’m most interested in is being a part of good stories,” Ridley said. “Aside from that, ‘The Eagle Huntress’ is a brilliant film. It’s just beautiful to look at even if you’re not concentrating on what the message is.”

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At the movies: Top 10 in 2015

Photo: Walt Disney Pictures

By Tim Lammers

There surely will be some disagreements, but here are 10 of the films that made movie-going worthwhile in 2015.

10. “The Walk” – Robert Zemeckis’ direction is at its jaw-dropping best with this stunning recreation of French performer Phillipe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) “artistic coup” – a death-defying wire walk between the void of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. The point-of-view shots on the wire were among the most, if not the most, intense scenes on the big screen this year.

9. “The Martian” – Director Ridley Scott returns to space once again – sans any alien life forms — with one of the most entertaining films of the year in this tale about an astronaut (Matt Damon) who was presumed dead after a vicious storm hits his team’s Mars expedition. True, it’s mostly a one-man show for Damon, but in between, the talented ensemble including Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig and Sean Bean help create an engaging rescue mission filled with as many laughs as there are thrills. It’s a real blast (off).

 8. “Legend” – Tom Hardy flawlessly demonstrates why he’s one of the best actors today with a dual performance as twins Ron and Reggie Kray, a pair of brutal gangsters who ruled the East end of London in the 1960s. Nearly identical in appearance, Hardy immediately establishes the distinct personalities of the Krays, making you quickly forget that what you’re watching are essentially impressive camera tricks. Proceeded by his kick-ass turn in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and followed by his frightening turn in “The Revenant,” 2015 was the year of Tom Hardy.

 7. “The Big Short” – Four groups of Wall Street outsiders stick it to the big banks during the housing meltdown of 2008, which feels great until you realize that even after the financial Armageddon, nothing really changes. Director Adam McKay makes an impressive transition from comedy to satire and drama with a film so slickly executed that it hearkens the greatness of Martin Scorsese. Christian Bale is the best of the film’s winning ensemble cast.

 6. “Inside Out” – Pixar’s “Up” Oscar-winner Pete Docter is back with this ingenious tale of how five emotions become mixed when an 11-year-old girl struggles with her family’s relocation from Minnesota to San Francisco. Like “Toy Story 3,” “Inside Out” is as much an emotional roller coaster for adults as it is a visual wonder filled with laughs for kids.

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 5. “Steve Jobs” – Michael Fassbender gives a career performance as the complex, socially-inept co-founder of Apple Computers, ingeniously played out during three pivotal moments of his career. Director Danny Boyle realizes his vision more like a stage play through Aaron Sorkin’s whip smart dialogue, where Jobs’ embattled colleagues (expertly played by Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg and to a lesser degree, Seth Rogen) wrack their brains trying to figure the prickly computer pioneer out.

 4.”Cinderella” – Far and away the most beautiful piece of cinema in 2015, this Kenneth Branagh-directed gem is one of the few films this year to deliver on all levels. Sometimes emotional, sometimes funny, and always full of heart, “Cinderella” has everything from stunning performances, awe-inspiring sets, gorgeous costumes, an emotional score and the recalibration of a classic character to reflect the modern age without damaging the classic tale’s integrity. Most of all, the film’s important message, “Have courage and be kind,” is one that will resonate for ages.

3. “Spotlight” – The film’s subject matter is depressing as all hell, but this film about The Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Boston Archdiocese’s priest sex abuse scandal in the early 2000s is so compelling that you can’t help but be gripped by it from beginning to end. The film not only recalls the greatness of “

;All the President’s Men,” but also serves as a reminder of today’s sad state of investigative journalism (if not journalism as a whole), which has been shot to hell by the Wild West Internet landscape where every media outlet has to have the story first, even if the facts aren’t completely right.

2. “Mad Max: Fury Road” – Writer-director George Miller finally gets the opportunity to make the “Mad Max” film he’s always wanted to make with this hyperkinetic road opus that can’t be described as anything but “batshit crazy.” Tom Hardy wipes the memory slate clean of Mel Gibson with his brooding performance as the title character, and Charlize Theron gives a furious performance of the aptly-titled character Furiosa.

 1. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – Sure, it’s not perfect, but how often can a film match the tone of the original 37 years after its release, and the monstrous expectations that go with it? The Force is back in a big way thanks to the ever-burgeoning creativity of writer-director J.J. Abrams, and this seventh episode in the “Star Wars” saga serves as a big reminder why we love movies in the first place. “Episode VII” can’t come soon enough.

 10 honorable mentions: “Ex Machina,” “Black Mass,” “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” “The Revenant,” “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” “Ant-Man,” “Creed,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “The Peanuts Movie.”

Worst film of 2015: “Sisters” – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler force an uncharacteristic brand of raunchy comedy down our throats that’s dreadfully unfunny and downright embarrassing. How this film got the greenlight to begin with, is one of the great mysteries of 2015. The “Saturday Night Live” alums must know where some bodies are buried.

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