"What if he falls?" That was the central question faced by filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin when deciding whether to document Alex Honnold's historic climb of Yosemite National Park's iconic El Capitan. The duo examines their own decision-making process in this recent op-ed published in The New York Times.
Honnold is the subject of their recently-released film, "Free Solo," which documents his nearly 3,000-foot climb of El Capitan without the use of safety ropes. The Op-Ed takes on additional relevance to photographers and filmmakers who must weigh the risks of capturing a shot in the wake of the recent deaths of two people who fell off the cliff at Taft Point, also in Yosemite.
The filmmakers discuss their responsibility to Honnold and the dangers posed by the mere presence of a camera crew to document such a harrowing climb. They faced many moral questions about how their presence might affect his climb, whether it be distraction or human error.
Chin also acknowledged those risks in a recent interview with Fstoppers, as he wondered if a camera crew might increase the dangers of an already insanely risky climb. Climber and filmmaker Cedar Wright, who has worked with both Chin and Honnold, also talked about such dangers with Fstoppers in February.
Not only did the cameras increase the risk to Honnold, the filmmakers and crew themselves also faced danger on every one of the 30-plus days they spent shooting on El Capitan and in other locales. Vasarhelyi and Chin take seriously their responsibility to their subject and knew his safety took precedent over the film.
Honnold, at some point, was going to attempt to free solo El Capitan, with or without them, so the core of their op-ed is the question of whether the additional risks posed by filming were worth the reward of documenting this historic feat.
Have you seen the film? Drop a comment below and let us know if you think it was worth the additional dangers to document this monumental athletic feat.
Lead image by Jimmy Chin, courtesy of National Geographic Documentary Films.