Free Solo Wins Oscar for Best Documentary (Videos + Photo Gallery)

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Last night, Free Solo, the film about Alex Honnold's iconic ropeless ascent of El Capitan's Freerider, won the Academy Award for best documentary feature. Free Solo is the first climbing film to receive such an award. In the five months since its release, the film has grossed nearly $19 million at the box office. Earlier this month, it also won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for best documentary.

Jason Momoa (who is also a climber) and Helen Mirren presented the award on stage to directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin and producers Evan Hayes and Shannon Dill. Alex Honnold and Sanni McCandless accompanied them. The team was visibly elated. "Holy shit," said Jimmy Chinn, who was censored for television. A moment later he reminded Chai Vasarhelyi to breathe before she began her acceptance speech:

Chai Vasarhelyi: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you National Geographic for believing in us, and for hiring women and people of color, because we only help make the films better. Thank you to all the amazing people who worked on this film: Evan [Hayes], Shannon [Dill]...

Chin: ...our high-angle team

Chai Vasarhelyi: It was a work of an army and we appreciate you in every way. Thank you to our families. Especially our two kids—Marina, I know you’re here.

Chin: James.

Chai Vasarhelyi: And then, thank you to Sanni McCandless. You climbed your own mountain that day, so thank you Sanni. This film would be so boring without you, I’m just saying. Anyway, thank you Alex Honnold for giving us courage, and for teaching us how to believe in the impossible and inspiring us. This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible.

Watch the the award presentation and acceptance speech.

Free Solo won over fellow documentary nominees Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Minding the Gap, Of Fathers and Sons, and RBG.

During a later press Q&A, Chin was asked, "Rock climbing is so ... non-Hollywood, so I would like to know what it was like to be here ... how glamorous it is, as opposed to rock climbing."

Chin said, "I mean, it's completely surreal. We've spent most of our lives climbing in the various wild landscapes around the world, and to be kind of embraced in this community.... we feel like interlopers, but it's been amazing. I think that it's because we threw our hearts into making this film. The high angle team—we know what heart is about because we climb, because we love it, and we are passionate about it, and we are passionate about the wild places we go, and I think that that's reflected in the film, and I think that's why people embrace the film."

Watch the full press room Q&A.

Free Solo’s protagonist, Alex Honnold, was pretty lax about the whole thing. Honnold reported being "kind of worked" from a gym session before the event, in a Gear Patrol video about his tuxedo. The tux itself was custom-made by The North Face, and the only tuxedo the company has ever made. “I’m not an actor, I’m not a filmmaker, I’ve never watched the Oscars...It’s not my world," said Honnold. “When I free soloed El Cap and all my friends texted me saying how impressed they were by the climb, that means more to me in a lot of ways than recognition for the film.”

Watch Honnold's interview with Gear Patrol.

On the red carpet, when Honnold was asked by Hollywood Reporter how the night compared to scaling a mountain, he said, “Oh, this feels much less serious.”

“Finally it’s reversed!” said Chai Vasarhelyi. “I’m like, my heart is pounding, I’m so scared, this is terrifying ... [Tonight] it’s our mountain to climb.”

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