Every climber knows the name Alex Honnold. And since the release of the documentary Free Solo and its many accolades, his name and the sport have had a much wider reach. The documentary profiles Honnold and follows his journey to scale the 3,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park…without a rope. This is the world of free solo climbing and Honnold’s on top. He’s the first and only person to free solo El Capitan and is also the speed record holder on The Nose of El Capitan. Free Solo digs into not only Honnold’s climbing, but also his personal life.
El Capitan is a vertical granite formation on the north side of Yosemite Valley. It’s one of the most recognizable and popular features of Yosemite National Park. The big challenge for climbers is to climb up the sheer granite face. All the climbing routes are not for the faint of heart…and Alex Honnold free climbed it.
A daring documentary
Filmmakers and married couple Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin are not new to documenting impressive feats of strength and endurance in climbing. Their documentary Meru, released in 2015, followed three climbers on the Himalayas’ Mount Meru. Meru gained attention in the industry and even won the U.S. Audience Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. It was also one of 15 shortlisted films for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Free Solo was released in 2018 and premiered at the Telluride Film Festival. It also screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the People’s Choice Award in the Documentaries category. The documentary had many accolades, including an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.
During production, it was a struggle to figure out how to film Honnold’s climb and get sound without being in the way. Honnold would be too far from the camera to use wireless mics and wired mics would interfere with his climbing. Production sounds recordist Jim Hurst, a climber himself, utilized a mic system that transmits a signal to the camera and store the audio within if the camera was out of range. Drone views and risky close-ups give the audience jaw dropping shots after shots.
Honnold’s test climbs with a harness attached revs up excitement at the beginning of the film. His successes and failures leave you at the edge of your seat to see how he will accomplish the incredible feat of free climbing El Capitan.
The man behind it all
Free Solo not only shows all beautiful scenery you expect to see in a documentary about climbing in one of the world’s most visited national parks, but also the man behind it all. One-on-one interviews explore Honnold’s upbringing and life. You learn about his family, his girlfriend, his van life, and more about his personality and why he climbs.
Whether you think free climbing is absolutely nuts or you live for danger, Free Solo is a must watch. The documentary shows more than just breathtaking mountain views and landscapes. You also explore the climber who brought free climbing to the limelight. With next-level cinematography and a unique story, it’s no wonder the film has been so popular. Watch Free Solo on the National Geographic TV channel app or website and on Hulu. Watch Now