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‘Free Solo’ and ‘Rescue’ Directors Set Next Film as Story of Patagonia and North Face Execs

Oscar winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin are at work on their next documentary while back in the awards race for Thai cave doc "The Rescue."

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin attend the 8th annual DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute Awards gala at Gotham Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin attend the 8th annual DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute Awards gala

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

Free Solo” Oscar winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin are already at work on their next documentary project while back in the awards conversation for their Thai cave doc “The Rescue.” As reported by Variety, the filmmaking duo are now in the edit suite on their upcoming big-screen effort, set as a relationship story that spans decades, and touches on everything from business to romance and, per their usual beat, the great outdoors.

The yet-to-be-titled documentary, eyeing a 2022 launch, will track the complex relationship involving Yvon Chouinard, the rock climber and conservationist who also founded the popular apparel company Patagonia; Douglas Tompkins, the co-founder of North Face and Esprit; and Kristine McDivitt, the former Patagonia CEO who went on to marry Tompkins.

“It’s a big love story with a major female protagonist, which is a big step for us. It inhabits the incredibly private worlds of Jimmy’s original mentors, who were best friends, though two totally different types of people,” Chai Vasarhelyi said.

Director Chin is a seasoned climber, having co-directed Himalayan odyssey “Meru” with Vasarhelyi in 2015 before turning his eye on Yosemite icon Alex Honnold for 2018’s “Free Solo.” The upcoming documentary will blend adventure footage (filmed in Tompkins’ private nature reserve known as Patagonia Park) along with interviews and archival materials to untangle the triad.

“Doug named the highest mountain in their park Cerro Kristine, after his wife,” said Vasarhelyi. “Jimmy climbed that mountain with Doug and Yvon in 2001, [and, after Doug’s death in 2015] Kris really wanted to climb the mountain named after her. So the film will be more of a meditative journey about how we got there.”

The filmmakers shot the last pieces of footage all the way back in February 2019. The project was intended to be the follow-up to “Free Solo,” until they pivoted to “The Rescue” (which hits Disney+ in December and is currently in select theaters).

“This has been a sprint,” Vasarhelyi said of “The Rescue.” “[It’s been] non-stop for the past eight months! We were so desperate trying to finish it that we showed one version at Telluride, another one at Toronto, and [kept working on it] until the film’s release.”

Now that “The Rescue” is out in the world, Vasarhelyi said it’s enabled them to focus on new material. “You have to be distracted by something else, to start thinking of new ideas,” she said. “We just saw our first cut of our next doc, so creatively, we’re in the real deal moment again. We’re understanding what we have, tackling the problems that have been obsessing us — and it’s been so nice to have that.”

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