“Free Solo” has won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The nonfiction film, directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, chronicles rock climber Alex Honnold’s death-defying quest to perform a free solo (no harness or safety ropes) climb up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Considering the Academy often leans on the most politically relevant film, “Free Solo” faced stiff competition from “RBG” – as the health of 85 year old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the direction President Trump (following the controversial nomination of Brett Kavanaugh) is taking the courts have both been huge news stories and a source of concern for Democrats in Hollywood.
Yet since premiering to rave reviews at the Telluride Film Festival this fall, “Free Solo” has become one of the most successful documentaries of all time. The National Geographic release has grossed over $16 million during its five month theatrical run. Meanwhile, Honnold, has become an unlikely favorite on the awards campaign trail, giving dynamic interviews and becoming one of Academy members’ favorite people to talk to during events.
The real star of the film though is Vasarhelyi and Chin’s incredible direction. Employing a team of top professional climbers-turned-cinematographers, the “Free Solo” team had the resources and time to practice and plan how to shoot Honnold’s historic climb in a way that is cinematically thrilling and terrifying. Meanwhile in vérité scenes, the co-directors and their camera team are open about their moral quandary in realizing they may be preparing to film Honnold’s death.
Also nominated for Best Documentary Feature were “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” “Minding the Gap,” and “Of Fathers and Sons.” The 91st Academy Awards took place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, February 24. The host-less show aired on ABC.