Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi‘s acclaimed climbing documentary Free Solo took home the best documentary feature prize at the 91st Academy Awards, held in Los Angeles on Sunday (Feb. 24).
The 100-minute film (pictured), which held its international premiere at TIFF, follows world renowned climber Alex Honnold, as he ascends the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite Park. Honnold takes on the climb free solo (without safety ropes or a climbing partner) and is the first climber ever to do so.
“Thank you Nat Geo for believing in us and hiring women and people of color, [because] they only help make films better,” said Chin and Vasarhelyi while accepting the prize. “Thank you Alex Honnold for giving us courage and teaching us how to believe in the impossible and inspiring us. This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible.”
Realscreen caught up with Chin and Vasarhelyi in September 2018, ahead of the documentary’s international premiere, to discuss the process behind making the film.
“Alex Honnold is an old friend of ours,” says Vasarhelyi. “Even without El Cap in the picture, it just seemed like he would be a fascinating subject for a film. The real question for us was whether we should make it, because it was so scary. As much as we may trust him, would we even want to be close to that?”
This year’s documentary winner beat out the likes of Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap, RaMell Ross’ Hale County, This Morning, This Evening and Talal Derki’s Of Fathers and Sons.
Elsewhere, the Academy Award for best documentary short went to Rayka Zehtabchi’s Period. End of Sentence, about women leading a revolution in a rural village outside Delhi, India to fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation..