“I’ve made a career of filming and shooting expeditions and some of the top athletes in the outdoors,” says Oscar-nominated “Free Solo” co-director Jimmy Chin, so he has had “the great fortune of working with some of the best athletes at the peak of their career.” So when he first heard that his friend Alex Honnold was planning to climb Yosemite’s 3,000 ft. high El Capitan Wall without ropes or safety gear, he knew he had to document it. Watch our exclusive video interview with Chin above.
A professional mountain climber himself, Chin thought what Honnold was attempting “almost seemed impossible. Even among the top echelon of climbers and athletes, we’d never really heard of or seen anybody do what Alex is doing, which is essentially executing perfection when the stakes are life and death” and “the technical aspects of climbing are extraordinarily high.”
But even though their film concerns an extreme sport, Chin and his directing (and life) partner Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi didn’t want to make a typical “a sports documentary. The films that we make have to have emotional depth” and “character development.” So what especially compelled them about Honnold’s story was that “it was less scary for him to go climb up thousands of feet without a rope than it was for him to ask somebody to be his climbing partner.” He was “this shy, awkward misfit who didn’t know how to connect with people.” That became the “baseline for us to develop who this person is.”
“Free Solo” recently won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary, and earned nominations at the PGA, DGA, and Critics’ Choice Awards. Chin and Vasarhelyi’s previous film, “Meru” (2015), also brought them PGA and DGA bids.
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.