Free Solo: How to film a mortal ascent Aug. 12, 2019

Alex Honnold is not just any Rock climber. In fact, he is not an ordinary man at all. If he was, perhaps he would not have climbed El Capitan, of 975 meters high, without the help of ropes and lived to tell his story.

In this Guidedoc article we write about Free Solo, the Oscar-winning documentary of 2018, a film that goes beyond registering a sporting feat to propose a critical reflection on how to film a man who, in every millisecond, is on the verge of death.

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An MRI shows some signs that Alex Honnold's capacity for astonishment is not like anyone else. For him, as it was since his childhood, the only thing that matters in life is rock climbing. With each achievement, there is a new goal to overcome the previous one. That ability to concentrate almost sickly in an activity, that healthy insolence, so to speak, is what has somehow prevented him from dying in his ascent alone and unprotected to the top of the most famous rocks in the world of climbing.

We see all this in Free Solo, a documentary by Elizabeth Chai and Jimmy Chin, who appears as one of the characters in the film while directing the group of cameramen who film Honnold during his deadly ascents. And this is not a fortuitous appearance but consists in revealing the apparatus behind the mortal adventures of the main character. And it is precisely this other perspective, that of the filmmakers, that makes Free Solo a documentary unique in its style.

 

 

Free Solo is a documentary about loneliness, about the search for human perfection and perhaps the best thriller of last year. But its special contribution lies in giving a face to the filmmakers who make Honnold´s ascent a shared journey, which in some way threatens the essence of the Free Solo discipline, which historically has been an intimate experience between a man and nature.

The accompaniment of the filmmakers and their apparatus is in fact Honnold's strongest conflict to achieve his goal. Suddenly it is not the physical and natural limits that prevent man from achieving an almost impossible feat, it is an ethical, psychological issue, which prevents him from assuming his achievement in peace.

 

 

The presence of a camera always generates a crisis. It is not the same if an event happens without a camera recording it. What is lost and what is gained by recording a historic feat? Is it justifiable to film the death of someone who is putting his life at risk for the sake of a movie?

The answers are not easy, just like Honnold's challenge. But this is not a matter of difficulty, but how brave we are to test the dilemma.

 

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