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‘Free Solo’ Wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Film

Free Solo is a 2018 American documentary film directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The film profiles rock climber Alex Honnold, on his quest to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017. The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2018 and also screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award: Documentaries.[3] It was released in the United States on September 28, 2018, received positive reviews from critics and has grossed over $19 million. The film has received numerous accolades, including winning Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards. 

Free Solo is the first climbing film to receive such broad mainstream acclaim. Free Solo won an Oscar for best documentary. Jimmy Chin’s acceptance speech, before yielding the microphone to his wife and co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi: “Holy shit.”

it feels unexpected that the two mass-appeal climbs of the past decade are Honnold’s free solo and Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s 2015 first ascent of the El Capitan’s Dawn Wall, which was covered pitch by pitch in the New York Times. Most climbers are sport climbers or boulderers. A tiny percentage will ever get on El Cap, and many fewer will ever solo a hard route.

So for climbers, it may be strange days ahead. After the Dawn Wall, it was important for climbers to point out that Caldwell and Jorgeson had freed the world’s hardest ever multi-pitch sport route, but not the world’s hardest ever free solo or the world’s hardest-ever sport climb. Free Solo’s reception in the broader culture—where all kinds of rock climbing are seen as daredevilry—has been slightly different than in the climbing world, and Free Solo has already created some confusion about Honnold’s status. CNN called Honnold the “greatest rock climber of all time”; The Washington Post said Free Solo was a top-notch mountaineering movie.


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