Oscars: Free Solo featuring Alex Honnold climbing El Capitan wins Best Documentary
The film Free Solo that chronicles the extraordinary solo, ropeless ascent of Alex Honnold up El Capitan in Yosemite has won an Oscar for Best Documentary. Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, this is the first time a climbing film has won the most prestigious award in filmmaking.
Free Solo, the film directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi that documents the audacious, first-ever ropeless ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite at the hands of American climber Alex Honnold in 2017, has just won the top honours at the 2019 Academy Awards, winning the trophy for Best Documentary Feature. Free Solo beat Hale County, This Morning, This Evening (directed by RaMell Ross), Minding the Gap (directed by Bing Liu), Of Fathers and Sons (directed by Talal Derki) and RBG (directed by Betsy West, Julie Cohen).
The Oscars 2019 were celebrated at Los Angeles last night and the climbing world was interested in particalar in the film that painstakingly followed Honnold’s dream for two years before it culminated in his historic free solo ascent of the Freerider route on 3 June 2017. Almost a 1000 meters of sheer granite, with a delicate and technical first crux followed by the crux 7c pitch hundreds of meters above the valley floor, mastered by the 31-year-old in 3 hours and 56 minutes.
Honnold’s ascent without a rope of the Freerider route - a variation to the Salathé Wall freed by Alexander Huber in 1998 - is an absolute milestone in modern climbing history and the film, directed by the highly talented alpinist, climber, photographer and filmmaker Chin and his wife Vasarhelyi, captured a moment that was absolutely unique and unrepeatable. Immediately after the ascent in fact, The New York Times stated in no uncertain terms "Alex Honnold’s Free Solo climb should be celebrated as one of the great athletic feats of any kind, ever."
After its debut at Telluride in August 2018, Free Solo quickly began winning a series of important awards, including a BAFTA (Britain’s equivalent of the Oscars) as Best documentary and an Eddie Awards from the American Cinema Editors Guild Awards. This is the first time a climbing or mountaineering film has actually won an Academy Award, after two previous nominations: Solo (Mike Hoover, 1973) and Touching the Void (Kevin MacDonald, entered in the coveted shortlist).
Shortly after his lone ascent in 2017, Honnold provided some insight into what had motivated him to delve into the huge unknown: "For a few hours on El Cap, I got to actually experience perfection." Last night at the Oscars, it was the documentary chronicling precisely this physical and psychological perfection that received the most prestigious recognition in the entire film industry.