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Free Solo takes home the Oscar for best documentary

Filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi react to their big win for the film about Alex Honnold’s ropeless climb of El Cap.

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It was an epic night for the outdoor industry last night as the much-heralded film Free Solo, which follows Alex Honnold’s two-year quest to do what many thought was impossible: climb Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Cap with nothing but a chalk bag.

Free Solo has earned more than $16M at the box office since it was released by National Geographic in September 12018.

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi seemed stunned as they made their way to the mic to give their acceptance speech, along with colleagues Evan Hayes, Shannon Dillon and Honnold and his girlfriend Sanni McCandless. Indeed, they were up against some heavyweight contenders: Of Fathers and Sons; Hale Country This Morning, This Evening; Minding the Gap; and RBG, the biopic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Chin let an “Oh, shit,” slip (it was bleeped out) and reminded his wife to breathe. Chai Vasarhelyi then thanked National Geographic for hiring women and people of color, as well as the couple’s two children, and Sanni McCandless. ‘You climbed your own mountain that day,” she said. “This film would be so boring without you, I’m just saying.”

Throughout the night, as they addressed the “Thank You Cam” and the Press Room after the ceremony, Chin’s surprise at having won the award is apparent and constant.

“It’s completely surreal,” he said on stage during the press briefing that followed the awards. “We’ve spent most of our lives climbing in wild landscapes around the world and to be embraced in this community, we feel like interlopers. But it’s been amazing…it’s because we threw our hearts into making this film. The high angle team, we know what heart is about. We climb because we love it we’re passionate about it and the wild places that we go. I think that’s reflected in in the film and I think that’s why people embrace the film.”

When a reporter asked Chin to describe a scary moment during the production, he replied: “Hanging off the wall, I couldn’t see Alex below and I just had to trust that he was being perfect. We also had to carry the weight of the entire production being perfect because if we made any mistakes it could have been catastrophic, so there was a lot of pressure at that moment.”

When Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi get nabbed by the “Thank You Cam,” Chin took a moment to plug the importance of public lands: “We are so fortunate to work in play in places like Yosemite places that give us inspiration and joy and beauty and we hope this film is a reminder of why its so important to protect and preserve our wild places.

Huge congrats to the whole Free Solo team.