The idea that a climbing film would ever win an Academy Award for Best Documentary is a concept that is—truly—too crazy, too unbelievable, too preposterous ever to believe. And yet, here we are, witnessing the husband-and-wife directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi receive an Oscar for their film “Free Solo.”
Having been a climbing storyteller since the beginning of my career, I’ve witnessed the sport change immensely. Climbing is popular in a way today that we never could’ve imagined 20 years ago. Free soloing has always captured the attention of the mainstream in ways that other forms of climbing have always struggled to do, but I think the timing and conditions were just right for a film like “Free Solo” to really make a big splash at the box office, with over $19 million grossed worldwide thus far and at least 11 different awards won.
But the real reason “Free Solo” is receiving this award is that it’s an incredible story, told in an incredible, riveting, way. Hats off to Jimmy and Chai for their hard work on this film and for receiving the biggest award in film. And congrats to the entire crew that worked on this film. And, of course, big congrats to Alex Honnold for his mind-boggling free solo of El Capitan.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t follow celebrity culture or the Oscars, but I was really entertained to see Alex in a tuxedo, standing on the Oscars stage alongside his girlfriend (and film co-star) Sanni McCandless in a beautiful gown. Of course, I prefer to see Alex in his usual dirty North Face hoody, with chalk on his hands, out at the cliffs doing what he does best. After a months long Free Solo tour, I’m sure he’s craving some time out at the cliffs, away from the spotlight. He certainly deserves it!