Oscar-Winning Alumnus Returns for “Free Solo” Screening


Colgate welcomed Executive Producer and alumnus Matt Renner ‘01 on Friday, March 29 for a screening of his triumphant documentary film, “Free Solo.”

Lilley Salmon, Maroon-News Staff

Executive producer and Colgate alumnus Matt Renner ’01 returned to campus on Friay, March 29 for a screening of his Oscar-winning documentary film, “Free Solo.” The film documents rock climber Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017. Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the film won the Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Documentary in 2019. The screening was co-sponsored by the Outdoor Education Program and the Colgate Film Society.

The event began with a speech from Renner. He promised the film would not only keep the audience on the edge of their seats, but would also leave viewers in awe. “Free Solo” certainly did not disappoint.

The film follows Honnold’s two-year journey to achieve his life-long goal of summiting El Capitan, a 3,000 foot granite wall in Yosemite National Park, without any ropes or harness. This type of climbing is called free solo climbing. While Honnold’s meticulous planning and preparation for this record-breaking ascent captivates the audience, the most interesting aspect of this film is likely its portrayal of Honnold, himself. The 33-year-old lives in a van and eats his meals from a pan with a spatula. The audience laughed at Honnold’s bluntness and intriguing view of life. In candid interviews, Honnold speaks about teaching himself how to hug at the age of 22 and his love for climbing being greater than his love for his girlfriend.

The film crew and Honnold’s close friends were all concerned for Honnold’s safety before the climb, and while he was acutely aware of the dangers, he remained unperturbed. Tommy Caldwell, a close friend and idol of Honnold, held back tears as he described the details of the planned climb. Even the director debated his involvement in the film, due to the dangers of free solo climbing and the possibility of ruining Honnold’s climb.

In a sport where the smallest mistake results in death and one’s life rests on the grip of a singular thumb and toe, the stakes are as high as can be. While most people find free solo climbing to be far too dangerous, Honnold sees it as a way to achieve perfection. His climb of El Capitan was perfection, as he summitted the cliff in under four hours and accomplished one of the greatest physical feats in the history of mankind. Upon reaching the top, a smiling and ever taciturn Honnold only said, “I’m so delighted.” The audience in Golden Auditorium couldn’t help but chuckle at the gross understatement.

Filled with beautiful shots of Yosemite and details of the arduous climb, “Free Solo” stuns and captivates the audience. The documentary, which runs for 96 minutes, is most certainly worth watching.

Contact Lilley Salmon at [email protected].