Free Solo is a visually astounding documentary made for National Geographic by filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarheyli and her partner/climber Jimmy Chin. The film follows free solo climber Alex Honnold, a close friend of the couple, in his journey to climbing the 2307m El Capitan, Yosemite… without ropes.
Free soloing, is a form of free climbing whereby the climber performs alone, relying entirely on their ability without the use of any ropes, harnesses or any protective equipment. It is a sport which has claimed the lives of many elite climbers, with El Capitan being responsible for the deaths of 31 fully protected climbers alone.
As well as following Honnold in his gruelling preparations for this intense climb, the film touches on the more personal side to such a dangerous sport. We see his difficult relationship with his family and new girlfriend Sanni McCandless and explore the motives behind taking on this challenge in a way which shows that free soloing is equally as mentally demanding as it is physical.
Not only does the film focus on Honnold conquering El Capitan but also overcoming everyday social difficulties to help him achieve his goals. It is this which provides a level of relatability to the audience in the documentation of a way of life which is so extraordinary.
The documentary also takes into account the perspective of the camera crew who are filming the climb. What would they think and feel if Honnold were to fall? How can they ensure that they are not a distraction to Honnold? What would happen to the documentary should he fall? The team ensured they remained neutral throughout Honnold’s preparations, banned from asking questions such as ‘are you going to climb today?’ so as not to pressure him. With the use of drones and carefully planned camera positioning, the crew were able to capture Honnold’s amazing feat without compromising his intense focus.
All in all, an inspiring yet nail biting piece, leaving your heart in your mouth at his every move.