With everyone eyeing Bohemian Rhapsody, which dominated the Oscars this year, and Roma and Green Book, the other biggies, Free Solo comes as a refreshing winner at the prestigious 91st Academy Awards ceremony.
The film, which depicts rock climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to scale the nearly sheer-vertical El Capitan in Yosemite, US, has soared to cinematic heights by bagging the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Free Solo was already a winner after it won several other awards such as the BAFTA Film Awards and Toronto International Film Festival Critics’ Choice Documentary Award.
On June 3, 2017, Honnold set out to free solo climb (mountain climbing without ropes or other protective equipment) one of the toughest and unachieved Yosemite’s mighty 3,000-ft El Capitan. He successfully ascended to top summit in 3 hours and 56 minutes. It took him 10 years of practice and several months to choreograph the feat that no human had ever achieved before. Honnold’s free solo ascent success marks a milestone in modern climbing history.
The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature on Sunday night at the 91st Academy Awards. Director Jimmy Chin and producer Chai Vasarheyl were on stage to receive the award.
Before he found love for climbing, Honnold was an intelligent kid but always feared social contact and even vegetables. But he found the way to overcome his fears by climbing free solo all over the world; he even became a vegetarian in the process.
When Vasarheyl approached Honnold few years ago about a potential plan to make a film about him, Honnold had different idea. He wanted to be filmed ‘free soloing’ the 3,000-ft granite El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
“He said, ‘If we’re to make a film, the only film-worthy thing in my life is doing this,” Vasarhelyi recalled.
Vasarhelyi and Chin finally set out for Yosemite to make Free Solo. For months, they filmed Honnold’s day-long training sessions on El Capitan and his humble existence off the mountain living in a van.
For someone like Honnold, whose life is completely about climbing and everything else comes second, a magical thing happened during the process of filming Free Solo: he found a girl who could tolerate his lifestyle.
"When I'm planning on doing something challenging, I spend the time sort of visualizing what the experience will feel like and what the individual sections of it will [feel like]," said Honnold during his podcast with Tim Ferris Show when asked about his mental preparation.
When being asked about his fears during free solo, Honnold said: “With free-soloing, obviously I know that I'm in danger, but feeling fearful while I'm up there is not helping me in any way," Honnold told Nat Geo. "It's only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be."
Beside climbing, Honnold is also a strong supporter of environment. His Honnald Foundation aims to reduce environmental impact and addresses inequality by supporting solar energy initiatives worldwide. He advocates use of off-grid solar system to reduce our carbon footprint.
On the big night, Honnold wore a one-of-a-kind custom-made tuxedo by The North Face and was accompanied by his girlfriend Sanni McCandless.