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Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 awarded Oscar for best documentary feature

On Sunday, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 accepted the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Vasarhelyi directed the film “Free Solo” with her husband, National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin, among others.

Aquaman actor Jason Momoa smiled and pumped his fist as he announced the award. This was Vasarhelyi’s first nomination and win.


“Thank you, National Geographic, for believing in us,” said Vasarhelyi in her acceptance speech, “and for hiring women and people of color. We only help make the films better.”

“Free Solo” followed the journey of Alex Honnold in climbing Yosemite’s famous 900-metre rock face, El Capitan, with no ropes. The film has grossed over $16 million, making it the second-biggest documentary of 2018.

“Thank you Alex Honnold for giving us courage and teaching us how to believe in the impossible,” said Vasarhelyi to the tuxedo-clad climber, who was across the stage.

Vasarhelyi also thanked her children, Marina and James, as she lifted her Oscar in the air.

At the University, Vasarhelyi concentrated in Comparative Literature. She has previously directed works for the New York Times, Netflix, and ESPN, as well as another rock-climbing based documentary, entitled “Meru,” in 2015.

“This film is for everyone who believes in the impossible,” said Vasarhelyi in her speech. “It was the work of an army.”