Terrifying experience of filming Free Solo

Mr Alex Honnold lives life dangerously.

One of an elite group of "free solo" rock climbers, he scales sheer vertical cliffs thousands of metres high, alone and without a rope.

His death-defying ascent in 2017 of the El Capitan granite rock formation in California's Yosemite National Park took him to this year's Oscars, where a film about his feat won Best Documentary.

Free Solo is an intimate look at Mr Honnold's experience of preparing for and climbing the 900m wall, where a misplaced finger could send him falling to his death.

It premieres on National Geographic (Singtel TV Ch 201/StarHub TV Ch 411) on April 6 at 9pm.


The constant prospect of death terrifies those around Mr Honnold in the film, but it gives the climber an equanimity that he finds liberating.

"What is so satisfying about free soloing is having that feeling of focus and not being self-conscious, losing that sense of self, just being fully present in what I am actually doing, just doing the moves," the 33-year-old American said.

At the heart of Free Solo is the dilemma film-makers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi struggled with: Whether documenting his climb would make it more dangerous for him or cause him to take risks he would not otherwise take.

"Alex is someone who has thought more about his mortality than mostly everyone. And he has chosen this life," Vasarhelyi said.

"We trusted him. We also trusted our judgment that we would always treat our subject with respect and the film's interests would never trump those of Alex.

"But, you know, we had to address the ethical question. And that is why we include the film-making, so that audiences can understand what we were struggling with."

The film-makers installed remote-controlled cameras at the most difficult points of the climb to avoid distracting Mr Honnold, and they also set up zoom-lens cameras on the ground.

Camera operators still had to film much of the ascent while suspended on ropes on the side of the rock face.

"We have been just humbled by this outpouring from audiences saying that Alex's courage gives them courage and that they are inspired to pursue their dreams," Vasarhelyi said. - REUTERS