‘Free Solo’ co-director Jimmy Chin on creating a ‘life and death’ documentary with ’emotional depth’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“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.

SEE Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi could collect Oscar IOU with ‘Free Solo’

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.”

SEE What wins the Oscar for Best Documentary?

“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.

The film currently competes at the Oscars against “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” “Minding the Gap,” “Of Fathers and Sons” and “RBG.”

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