Documentary Spotlight

'Free Solo' Director Talks Creating a Film With a "Fulfilling" Story

"You always hope that other people will be inspired by the same things that inspire you, like the reason why you're making the film, and to see it actually happen on such a scale has been incredibly fulfilling," Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi said.

Director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi is aware that Free Solo "could've been made a lot of different ways," but felt like she had a duty to tell the true story inspiring the film.

"As a director, people are trusting you with their lives, with their stories. Can you look at yourself in the mirror and know you did the right thing?" Vasarhelyi asked during The Hollywood Reporter’s latest episode of Magic Hour.

The Oscar-nominated filmmaker, whose A Normal Life won best documentary at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival, has always had a love for storytelling. "My love was always in books. I was just one of those avid readers. Films came later, but the stories were always present."

Vasarhelyi earned critical acclaim for her 2015 documentary Meru, following three climbers' journey up the famed Himalayan mountain. Her latest project, Free Solo, which she also co-directed with world-renowned photographer and husband Jimmy Chin, is an intimate portrait of free soloist Alex Honnold as he prepares to climb Yosemite National Park’s 3,000-foot El Capitan without a rope or harness.

"There's something about Free Solo that I look at the craft around it and I’m really proud," the filmmaker said. "Understanding that people who decide to come and watch the film find themselves inspired by Alex's courage, how his story makes real this idea of making the impossible possible.

"This film is always going to honor this idea of a life of intention because Alex has thought more deeply about his own mortality than most people," she added. "He thinks about it on daily basis and given that, he has decided to live his life this way because that’s how he wants to live the limited time that we have on this earth.

"You always hope that other people will be inspired by the same things that inspire you, like the reason why you’re making the film, and to see it actually happen on such a scale has been incredibly fulfilling."

Magic Hour, "Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi"
Directed by Jennifer Laski
Featuring Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Executive producers: Jennifer Laski, Matthew Belloni
Producer: Victoria McKillop
Co-producer: Stephanie Fischette
Director of photography: Danielle Calodney
Camera operators: Patrick Ginnetty, Kristin Kremers, Michael Palmesino
Editors: Nebiyu Dingetu, Victor Klaus