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Free Solo Shows at Banff, Leaves Audience Breathless

The critically acclaimed Free Solo screened at the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival on Oct. 28.

In the film, Alex Honnold plays Alex Honnold like we’ve never seen before. The film makes us laugh at Honnold’s dry humour, gasp at his daring pursuits and brings us a little bit closer to understanding his motivation.

Filmed over eight years, we see Honnold go from being a van-dweller to a homeowner. We get an inside look at his relationship with Sanni McCandless, Honnold’s partner who he met at a book signing. And we see that he’s not always the light-hearted goofy guy just running up big walls around the world.

Leading up to Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan’s Freerider, many of his friends voice their concerns about his bold idea, from his partner Sanni McCandless to big wall free-climbing specialist Tommy Caldwell and filmmaker Jimmy Chin.

Nevertheless, Honnold justifies his life-risking climb throughout, often citing the warrior’s way and how free-soloing is similar to being a samurai. Our brief introduction to his childhood and family begins to explain why he pushes so hard. And an MRI reveals that Honnold’s brain doesn’t work like the average person’s.

Peter Croft, who is one of the world’s greatest free soloists, tells Honnold that he’d free-soloed the Rostrum, an eight-pitch 5.11c in Yosemite, nearly 60 times, but that he never brought a camera crew.

The film also mentions other famous free soloists who’ve died in the past few years, such as John Bachar. However, the film fails to say that many of the free soloists who died on their list, didn’t die from free soloing, but from other dangerous sports. Dan Osman died from a rope jump, and Dean Potter and Sean Leary from BASE jumping.

All of the emotion, athleticism and amazing filmography leads to the moment when Honnold leaves his van in the spring of 2017 and walks to the base of El Cap without a rope.

Everyone in the audience knows Honnold makes it to the top and lives to tour with the film, but filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin do such a good job at taking us with Honnold up Freerider, that we feel like we’re right there in real time.

We’re all in the valley with videographer Mikey Schaefer as he turns away from his camera because he can’t stomach watching Honnold on the cruxes. We’re all behind the lens when Honnold heads into the 5.13a boulder problem (even though there was no cameraman and the camera was automatic), we all gasp as he makes the low-percentage moves and we all sigh with relief when he looks at the camera and says through a grin, “Fuck yeah.”

Free Solo is a movie about the biggest achievement in climbing history that has left audiences laughing, gasping and crying. It portrays Honnold and his inner circle as a group of top climbers trying to come to terms with something so monumental but so dangerous that we can feel their emotions. As Caldwell says in the film, “It’s like going for a gold medal in the Olympics and if you don’t win the gold, you die.”

Will Free Solo win the top prize at this year’s Banff film festival? Most likely, but this film is so much bigger than any of the awards it’s already received, it’s a film that will be watched for years to come, leaving audiences breathless and happy Honnold lived to tell the story.

The perch below the Boulder Problem – the last place to chalk up before doing the hardest 12 moves of the route. This was probably the most intense position on all of El Cap, not that I remember it that way since I just chalked up and climbed. This was taken by the remote cameras filming @freesolofilm – there weren’t any camera men there because it seemed like too much for all involved. For those that haven’t see it yet, Free Solo expands to 400 theaters around the country this weekend which is it’s widest reach yet. For those in Europe and the rest of the world: have patience, it’s rolling out over the next few months. And it will eventually show on the @natgeochannel and then be online in some way. Sorry I don’t have more details, I honestly don’t know what the whole plan is. I’ve tried to focus on the climbing and let the rest of the team work on the rest… @chaivasarhelyi @jimmy_chin @natgeo @cheynelempe

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