Free Solo, the acclaimed film about Alex Honnold’s ropeless climb of El Capitan, has been nominated as best documentary feature in the 91st Academy Awards. Produced by National Geographic and directed by Jimmy Chin and his wife Elisabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the film also explores the motivations and reflections of Honnold as he prepares for a feat that “sets the ultimate standard: perfection or death.”
Beyond depicting one of the boldest climbs in recent years (while trying not to fatally distract Honnold when he is on the wall), the film digs into the psyche of an athlete who exceeds our current understanding of physical and mental potential. At the same time that Honnold prepares for his do-or-die mission, he struggles to come to terms with the responsibilities and distractions of his first serious girlfriend.
The film competes with four other documentaries, none of them related to adventure or nature. Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Minding the Gap portray scenes of American life; the widely distributed RBG is a biopic of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Of Fathers and Sons depicts how children are raised and trained in Jihadism by their own families.
It’s not first time Chin and Vasarhelyi have earned Oscar notice for a climbing documentary. Their film Meru, about two harrowing expeditions to India’s Meru Peak by Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk was nominated in 2016, shortly after scooping the Audience Documentary Award at Sundance.
This year’s Oscar ceremony takes place on February 24.
This feature was first published on ExplorersWeb.
Angela Benavides is a sports journalist, author.