Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 April 2019

Baftas 2019: 'Free Solo' documentary co-produced by Abu Dhabi film firm wins big

The Baftas are seen as an indicator of who might triumph at the Academy Awards, so could an Oscar be next?

Alex Honnold stands atop the Lower Cathedral with El Capitan in the background, in the Yosemite National Park. National Geographic / Samuel Crossley.
Alex Honnold stands atop the Lower Cathedral with El Capitan in the background, in the Yosemite National Park. National Geographic / Samuel Crossley.

Free Solo, The National Geographic and Image Nation Abu Dhabi film, has picked up the trophy for Best Documentary at the 2019 Baftas.

The climbing production beat the likes of RBG, the much-celebrated film that explores the legacy of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and McQueen, which examines the life and career of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010.

Free Solo follows Alex Honnold, acknowledged as one of the world’s best exponents of ropeless climbing (a sport that is also known as free ­soloing) as he prepares to climb El Capitan Wall in California’s Yosemite Park.

The vertical rock formation rises 900 metres into the sky, which is 25 storeys higher than the Burj Khalifa, and is considered by many to be the summit of rock climbing.

But Honnold wasn't about to stop at just climbing the wall, he was adamant to attempt to do the seemingly impossible — by climbing El Cap without safety equipment.

Married couple and co-directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin followed Honnold over the course of two years as he prepared for the climb.

Simultaneously, it follows a life journey of another kind, as he meets and falls in love with his partner.

The film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival (in Colorado in the US) in August 2018, and a week later, screened at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival where it won the People's Choice Award: Documentaries.

As well as being nominated for a 2019 Bafta, Free Solo is also up for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Prince William meets the team behind the documentary Free Solo after the Bafta Awards at The Royal Albert Hall in London. AP Photo.
Prince William meets the team behind the documentary Free Solo after the Bafta Awards at The Royal Albert Hall in London. AP Photo.

The Baftas are often an indicator of who might triumph at the Oscars, held this year on February 24.

“It didn’t seem like a big deal when Chai and Jimmy approached me about making a film,” says the ­Sacramento-born climber, when The National spoke to him earlier this year. “It’s not like I’ve ever really been in a film before, so I didn’t know what it meant. I was like this sounds fun, but once we started shooting it, I realised it was more involved than I expected.”

For a full list of the winners from the 2019 Baftas, see our rundown here.

Updated: February 11, 2019 10:15 AM

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