The Dawn Wall

The Fyre Festival isn’t the only subject to have recent duel documentaries.

While the films don’t compete against each other, it’s hard not to compare The Dawn Wall to the Oscar nominated doc Free Solo. Both films, led by experienced climbers, chronicle expert freestyle climbs up Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan. Free Solo had Alex Honnold climbing Yosemite’s famous cliff, but The Dawn Wall features team climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson facing The Dawn Wall, a large scale of El Capitan that most climbers (even Honnold) refuse to attempt.

Although Honnold’s story is admirable, The Dawn Wall delivers in ways Free Solo faltered with. Free Solo featured amazing camerawork capturing Alex’s incredible climb, but the documentary is structured poorly – sometimes losing its focus on Honnold altogether. The Dawn Wall gives viewers a consistent perspective on a death-defying trek, cutting away every so often to give the audience some background on Tommy Caldwell (which includes a jaw-dropping story about a bungled expedition in Kyrgyzstan that had the climber and his team held captive by rebels). The film takes a brief break  to explain how Caldwell met his bouldering partner Kevin Jorgeson, which gradually develops into a significant story about their friendship, which then ties into their loyalty to each other on their latest mission.

The Dawn Wall also features a seasoned, outsider perspective with interviews from Yosemite climbing legend John Long. Long, who knows El Capitan like the back of his hand, is used brilliantly to recap the methodical process it takes to scale a cliff that large, and instructing viewers on the El Capitan’s unfathomable challenges (including a seemingly impossibly smooth “traverse” that requires climbers to hold onto small crevices using inches of their fingertips). The doc layers on additional nerve-wracking pressure tension as the pressures of global news outlets and Yosemite onlookers watch Tommy and Kevin in anticipation.

Like Free Solo, The Dawn Wall may not be for the faint who are fearful of extreme heights; especially considering how often the documentary features missteps and falls from Caldwell and Jorgeson. But, please, try and find the strength you need to watch The Dawn Wall. This perfect film from directors Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer works as an incredible adventure as well as an informed documentary.

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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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