‘What If He Fell?’ The Huge Risks of ‘Free Solo’ Mean Its Reward Could Be the Best Doc Oscar

IndieWire | 6/3/2017 | Staff
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Three years ago when married filmmakers Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi (“Meru”) embarked on climbing documentary “Free Solo” (NatGeo), they had no idea what a nailbiter it would finally be. By the time they unveiled the gorgeous 4K spectacle at Telluride over Labor Day weekend and watched it with an audience as well as their crew, they were stunned at how it brought back feelings of PTSD. “It was crazy,” said Vasarhelyi. “Looking at dailies of the climb, it no longer affected me while we were cutting these scenes over and over again. But seeing it with an audience brought it back. My stomach fell out.”

During filming, the filmmakers weren’t the ones climbing the 3000-foot rock face of El Capitan without a rope, where any misstep would mean certain death. That was mountaineer Alex Honnold. But in some ways watching him and tracking him and not getting in his way was tougher for them than it was for him.

Craft - Cinema - Verité - Film - Climber-cinematographer

The craft of the cinema verité of this film is undeniable — pro climber-cinematographer Chin brings 20 years of experience and high standards to his work. But he and Vasarhelyi also probed into the brain and personal life of the reluctant, camera-shy Honnold, whose intimacy issues were on display, as he fell in love with Sanni McCandless, the current woman in his life, on camera.

“Free Solo”

Movie - Audiences - Toronto - People - Choice

That’s why the movie scored not only with festival audiences (it won the Toronto People’s Choice documentary award) and critics (Metascore: 83) but at the box office, earning $16 million so far (including two one-week IMAX runs during awards season) before it airs on NatGeo March 3.

Having won four Cinema Eye Honors and Critics Choice documentary awards each, as well as the documentary BAFTA, DGA, Cinema Audio Society, and ACE editors guild awards, “Free Solo” is...
(Excerpt) Read more at: IndieWire
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