The Organization’s Gala will be held on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 in New York City

New York, NY (November 27, 2018) – The National Board of Review today announced their 2018 honorees, with top awards including Green Book as Best Film of the Year, Bradley Cooper as Best Director of the Year for A Star is Born, Viggo Mortensen as Best Actor of the Year for his performance in Green Book, and Lady Gaga as Best Actress of the Year for her performance in A Star is Born.

NBR President Annie Schulhof said, “We are proud to honor Green Book as our best film – it is a warm and heartfelt look at a remarkable friendship, brought to the screen at a moment where its story of love, compassion, and shared humanity deeply resonates. We are also thrilled to award Bradley Cooper as our best director – he is an extraordinary talent behind the camera, bringing a fresh and modern perspective, as well as superb craftsmanship and tremendous heart, to the classic story of A Star is Born.”

The 2018 awards continue the NBR’s tradition of recognizing excellence in filmmaking, going back 109 years. This year 261 films were viewed by this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals, academics, and students, many of which were followed by in-depth discussions with directors, actors, producers, and screenwriters. Voting ballots were tabulated by the accounting firm of Lutz & Carr, LLP.

The National Board of Review’s awards celebrate the art of cinema, with categories that include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Original and Adapted Screenplay, Breakthrough Performance, and Directorial Debut, as well as signature honors such as Freedom of Expression and the William K. Everson Film History Award.

The honorees will be feted at the NBR Awards Gala, hosted by Willie Geist, on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at Cipriani 42nd Street. To request credentials to the evening’s red carpet, please fill out the application here by December 28, 2018.

Below is a full list of the 2018 award recipients, announced by the National Board of Review:

Best Director: Bradley Cooper, A STAR IS BORN
Best Actor: Viggo Mortensen, GREEN BOOK
Best Actress: Lady Gaga, A STAR IS BORN
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Elliott, A STAR IS BORN
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Best Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader, FIRST REFORMED
Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Best Animated Feature: INCREDIBLES 2
Breakthrough Performance: Thomasin McKenzie, LEAVE NO TRACE
Best Directorial Debut: Bo Burnham, EIGHTH GRADE
Best Foreign Language Film: COLD WAR
Best Documentary: RBG
William K. Everson Film History Award: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND and THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: 22 JULY
NBR Freedom of Expression Award: ON HER SHOULDERS

Top Films (in alphabetical order)
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Eighth Grade
First Reformed
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
A Quiet Place
A Star Is Born

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
The Guilty
Happy as Lazzaro

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
Crime + Punishment
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
The Death of Stalin
Lean on Pete
Leave No Trace
The Old Man & the Gun
The Rider
Sorry to Bother You
We the Animals
You Were Never Really Here


ABOUT THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW For 109 years, the National Board of Review has dedicated its efforts to the support of cinema as both art and entertainment. Each year, this select group of film enthusiasts, filmmakers, professionals and academics of varying ages and backgrounds watches over 250 films and participates in illuminating discussions with directors, actors, producers and screenwriters before announcing their selections for the best work of the year. Since first citing year-end cinematic achievements in 1929, NBR has recognized a vast selection of outstanding studio, independent, foreign-language, animated and documentary films, often propelling recipients such as George Miller’s visionary 2015 Best Film winner Mad Max: Fury Road into the larger awards conversation. NBR also stands out as the only film organization that bestows a film history award in honor of former member and film historian William K. Everson. In addition, one of the organization’s core values is identifying new talent and nurturing young filmmakers by awarding promising talent with ‘Directorial Debut’ and ‘Breakthrough Actor’ awards as well as grants to rising film students and by facilitating community outreach through the support of organizations such as The Ghetto Film School, Reel Works Teen Filmmaking, and Educational Video Center. With its continued efforts to assist up-and-coming artists in completing and presenting their work, NBR honors its commitment to not just identifying the best that current cinema has to offer, but also ensuring the quality of films for future generations to come.

Join the conversation @NBRfilm

Andy Gelb / Shawn Purdy/ Rachael Trager
(212) 235-6814 / /

Q&A with Alfonso Cuarón, Yalitza Aparicio, and Marina de Tavira

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Roma.

Can you talk about the experience acting in the film?
Marina De Tavira: When Alfonso invited us…when we finished the long casting process he said that it was a film about life itself. We wouldn’t have a script, and we will be learning everyday what was going to happen with the characters. We were going to work in a completely different way. It was thrilling, fascinating, challenging and a strong transformative experience as an actress, but also as a woman. The way he would deliver the information about the scenes would be separate. He would talk to every actor alone, and then he would put on the scene. We were always dealing with the unexpected and surprises.
Alfonso Cuarón: It was all shot in chronology. It’s not as irresponsible as it sounds.
MT: There was a script. But, the way he gave it to us was incredible.

“it was this idea of not having a safety net.”

Yalitza, can you talk about your experience being a non-actor in the film?
Yalitza Esparicio: I didn’t have a clue who Alfonso was. I even felt some fear, because I thought it could be women trafficking of something like that. I felt some fear. But, as soon as he asked me if I wanted to be a part of the project I said absolutely yes. It was more the excitement of seeing how films were made. The first day it helped that he took me from the easiest things to the more complicated things. I thought to myself that I could do this. After a while I regretted it again, but at first I didn’t. I trusted all the way.
AC: I just would like to say that one week into the process Yalitza knew way more about film making than all of us.

Alfonso, you were director, producer, writer, DP, etc. How was it possible to do so many jobs for such a massive film?
AC: It was the conscious process of saying that I’m going to do a film without a safety net. It’s the kind of stuff that I always dream of doing. I talk about doing this sort of thing all the time with Chivo. I designed this film for Chivo…to have all these days, because he always complains about time. It’s the longest post production of image that we have done with technicolor. It became impossible for Chivo, because of his other commitments. But, it was this idea of not having a safety net. I wrote the script, and it was the first impulse. I didn’t want to revise the script. Everything had to come from memory. I said before that if I have shown this script to Guillermo Del Toro or Alejandro Innaritu or Carlos, my brother, they would have turned it into a better script technically in terms of the plot. I didn’t want to be concerned about that. I ended up being cinematographer, because Chivo couldn’t do it. It was not by choice. Being outside of the comfort zone was a process for everyone. It was for Marina. It was for Yalitza. It was also for the crew, because they were not used to working the way that we were working. I think that was the part of the alchemy of what happened.

I have to ask about the taxidermy dog room. What’s going on there?
AC: I slept in that room when I was a child. The decision with the film was also to shoot in the places where this actually took place. The house was impossible, because the new owners had completely changed it. We took exact measurements, and we reproduced the house in the shell of another house that had exactly the same structure. We bought in the original materials. Most of the furniture is original. One thing was to shoot in the hacienda. The hacienda was not in the good state, and we had to redo floors and stuff. But, the thing is that I really slept in that room. As a child you didn’t question it. You have all these dogs with marble eyes over there on top of the bunk bed. You didn’t think twice about it. Now I find it horrific.

Q&A with Sissy Spacek, David Lowery, and Robert Redford

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Old Man and the Gun.

How did you find this story?
David Lowery: It was a true story about this guy whose life was too good to be true in terms of a narrative. From the time he was thirteen, all he wanted to do was rob banks. He wanted to be a legendary criminal, like Dillinger, or the versions of Dillinger that he saw in the movies when he was growing up as a little kid. He spent his whole life robbing banks, getting caught, going to jail, breaking out of jail, and then robbing more banks. He never learned his lesson, because for him that was the thing he cared about the most. He just really wanted to get good at that, and at a certain point he did get good at that. That’s sort of the period of the story that we focus on in the film. I just love this idea of a character who was so dead set on doing what he loves that he didn’t really care about getting caught. Getting caught was just part of the experience; it didn’t get in the way of the joy he took in his profession. So, Robert Redford gave me the article with the idea that he would play this character.

“For me, the most important thing of all is story. To me that’s it.”

How does that affect your writing process when you know that you’re writing for Robert Redford?
DL: It does a little bit. It always helps to write for a particular actor. And that’s true whether it’s an actor that you know and have worked with before or an actor you have just seen in films your whole life. You can sort of tailor the script for them in a way. At the same time you don’t want to deprive them of a chance of playing a character and creating a new character. It does allow you to lean into what you either know or imagine their strengths will be and the things you want to see them do. So, it does help to have a cast attached when you start the project. I never for a second imagined this with anyone other than Robert.
Robert Redford: I think the relationship with Sissy and I kind of speaks for itself. It was very easy, because there wasn’t any discussion. Things just kind of fell into place which is a wonderful thing for an actor to have. Then I found out you weren’t talented after all [laughter]. I like to say that this is really his project. I may have found the story or may have sent it his direction. But, this movie is David’s film. He’s the one that conceived of it as a script. He’s the one that wrote the script. He’s the one that directed the film. He edited the film. Now, he’s out promoting it. Basically, I think the core of this project belongs to David which I’m very happy about, because I think he’s a really talented guy that’s got a great career ahead of him. It was a pleasure for me to put it in his hands, because I had faith that it was in good hands. I’m kind of regretful of something that happened recently. We were having an interview, and somehow the word “retirement” came into the picture. I spoke about retirement, and I think that was a mistake, because it drew too much attention to that. I was there to promote the film with a wonderful cast, and I think it put too much attention on the business of me retiring. I think it would have been far better for me to have quietly slip into another category and not talk about it so much. I’m happy to be able to say that now. I want to walk it back.

Robert and Sissy, can you talk about getting to know each other on this project?
Sissy Spacek: We met many, many years ago. He doesn’t remember, because he was a big star and I was a nobody. I was kind of a fan, a drooling fan. Well, maybe not drooling. It was easy working with him. Like he said, we came in prepared, and all I had to do was respond to him. We really had fun.
DL: We had one day of rehearsal where we just went to that diner where we shot all of those scenes. We just sat down and worked our way through those scenes very informally. At a certain point, I said that we needed to stop. It’s going to be great when we film. We didn’t need to rehearse it too heavily. Let’s just quit while we’re ahead and come back tomorrow with the cameras. That was true. It was really everything I hoped for.
SS: David’s a real collaborator. He brought us all in while he was working on the script. He would send different scenes to ask us what he thought about them. He’s very inclusive, and he’s also got a very relaxed and happy set. He’s kind of like Robert Altman in that he works with a lot of the same crew members. The cinematographer, the producers, and a lot of the same actors. I noticed that no actor just works with him once. Knock on wood! They always come back and work with him again. That says a lot about this guy.

Both of you make the performances look effortless. Do you think that is because of experience or the particular tenor of this film?
SS: Gosh, I don’t know the answer to that.
RR: I think it’s experience.
SS: Thanks, Bob.

We see more of Jewel and Forrest than we do of the actual heists. Can you talk a little about that decision?
DL: I kept writing all these bank robbery scenes, and then I cut them out before we shot them. We have one pretty good robbery scene at the beginning of the movie, and after that I thought we didn’t need another. There’s a certain expectation that maybe you’ll see another one or that there would be one last job or something like that. As an audience member I’d be pleasantly surprised to see the movie veer off away from that and move in a different direction. I’m always more interested in those in between moments instead of the big set pieces that other movies might employ to move the story along.

You shot on Super 16, and I’m curious how that affected the performances.
DL: It’s simpler. I’ve done film and digital productions. I love both. Both work for different types of movies. For digital cinema, the cameras have so many different wires running out of them, and there’s so many monitors everywhere. With a film camera, it’s simple. You put the film in, put a matte box on the lens, and hit the green button. The sound of film running through a camera changes the mood on the set in a very specific way. It’s a very quiet sound, but you nonetheless feel that you are capturing something that is very ephemeral. When the cameras are completely silent with digital, it doesn’t feel as special. When you’re breaking down the budget, and you see how much it costs to shoot digital and how much it costs to shoot film, you can’t quantify that feeling. It does change things. For this film, I was dead set on it. When you see Super 16 now, you’re never for a second unaware what the movie was shot on, and that was important for this aesthetic.
RR: When you want to advance technology, there is a cost that’s hidden in that. For me the cost was too many wires when you’re doing a scene. There was no dialogue, but there was so many wires and so many things going on to distract your mind’s attention.
SS: I actually felt some pressure.
DL: On the flip side…
SS: When there’s film, you’re thinking that you’ve got to get it this time. You don’t want to waste the film.

Can you elaborate more about where we are with technology and film?
RR: Well, if I can kick this off. I have very strong feelings about this. I think that technology is very appealing. It’s very seductive. For me, the most important thing of all is story. To me that’s it. There’s nothing more important than a story to be told. What I’ve seen happen over the years is as high tech technology has increased, is that it has increased the ability of filmmakers to do special effects. Sometimes those special effects have token over the film. So, you these effects that are wonderful and exciting to look at. But, where is the story? Technology has advanced without advancing story along with it. For me, it might be a little old fashioned, but I don’t think there’s anything more important than story. It starts there.
SS: Illuminating the human experience is important, but I think you can work with modern technology and still have the human experience come through.
DL: What Bob says is true. Story is paramount. We made Pete’s Dragon together in New Zealand. I wanted to shoot that movie on film, but there are no labs. Also, there’s a giant visual effect as one of the main characters in that film, but it was part of the story. It never became about just showcasing that visual effect. One of my favorite things that David Fincher has said is that he loves putting $100,000 visual effects in the background. That’s what you do if you’re shooting a scene. You don’t think about how much one element cost. It’s really important to just let visual effects be a part of the story.
SS: In the right hands anything can work.
DL: For me what’s important is that embracing technology as a filmmaker is an important thing to do, to understand the modes in which films are being made and exhibited. But, also to never have a door shut on a particular way of making a film. If all of a sudden I was no longer able to shoot a film on Super 16MM, if that option was denied to me it would be a great sadness. It just means that I want that option there. It’s the same thing as seeing a film projected on 35mm or on 70mm versus seeing a DCP. I like having those options available to me as a filmmaker and as a moviegoer.
RR: It was really weird because we didn’t have a dragon on the set of Pete’s Dragon. The dragon was something your imagination produced, because it hadn’t been developed yet. It would be done in post production. What we were looking at, instead of a dragon, was a pole with a tennis ball at the end of it. To me it was a tennis ball at the end of a pole.
DL: When we cut the first version of the movie together we had no dragon in it, but it still worked. That was a testament to everyone’s commitment to that story. Even without the dragon there, you could imagine what was happening. The story worked. We could have released it that way, and it still would have worked.

Q&A with John C. Reilly, Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, and Alison Dickey

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Sisters Brothers.

John, how did you find the book?
JOHN C. REILLY: Actually my wife found the book. She and I were working on a film called Terri at the time with Azazel Jacobs, a great New York filmmaker. Patrick DeWitt had written the script for that movie based on some short stories that he had written. At the end of it, Alison Dickey asked him if he had any other writing or anything in the pipeline. He said that he had this manuscript that hadn’t even gone to the publisher yet. She read it and just devoured it in a day. And, she brought it to me and said, “You have to read this! The character of Eli is like Patrick was thinking of you!” He wasn’t. (laughs) It just turned out that way. Then, I read it, and it just seemed like such a filmic idea right away. The landscapes and the adventure these guys go on, and it was also shockingly vulnerable for a Western. The fact that you get a sense emotionally what’s going on with these guys was just…wow. When you read the book, the character Eli is kind of the narrator. A lot of his inner monologues kind of tell you what’s going on in the story. So, that’s how it started. We just realized that we had to make this into a movie. I’ve never done that before, and I might never do it again. It worked out really well on this one! Why not quit while you’re ahead. So, we approached Jacques Audiard, which was also Alison’s idea. We had been following his films all along. If you’ve seen A Prophet or Rust and Bone, you know this guy is among the best in the world. Then, it just turned out that he was eager to work with English speaking actors just because it was a new thing for him. I don’t think he was especially interested in a Western. He was intrigued by the story and the familial relationships. Anyone who has had siblings can relate to some of the squabbling and the love/hate dynamic of the brothers in the film. In the book, the final third is when you finally meet Warm and Morris. But, Jacques realized those were very compelling characters, so he moved them up into the story so that you’re tracking them as you’re tracking the brothers. So, he really made this delicately balanced quartet out of a book that was told through the voice of my character. That was a very long answer.

“in life things are not what they appear to be. That’s the lesson for today.”

How did you pick Jacques Audiard out of all the directors you could have gone to?
JR: Well, there’s amputations in both A Prophet and Rust and Bone. But, we thought of Jacques, because he’s one of the greatest filmmakers in the world. We promised Patrick DeWitt that we’d do our very best to get the best people we could get to make this film. And, miraculously it all came together. Here we are seven years later sharing the movie with people. Jacques initially seems like a counter-intuitive choice. He’s the first Frenchman to direct a Western. There was only one other who directed a series of them in the 1920’s, but they were in French and shot in France. So, yeah, initially you think that this Western American story and having a European do it is a counter-intuitive idea. But, he’s a great filmmaker. And, if you really study the area it was a very multicultural time in America. There were people pouring in from all over the world. It was like a Tower of Babel of languages that were going on in San Francisco. I hope we capture a little bit of that in the film. This idea that a European would be good to tell the story suddenly just appeared to us. There’s no reason to make another The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. There’s been so many great Westerns done, and a lot of them are based on myths that we hold onto ourselves as Americans in the West. It’s a lot more interesting than that, actually, what was going on. The actual historical details are very interesting. That appealed to Jacques. He said that he didn’t want to do a Western. He saw it as a period piece. It’s about two brothers and their relationship and what’s happening in their world at the time. It’s not really about the good guys and the bad guys and the white hats and the black hats. I think one of his chief concerns was to make a film that was relevant to our time. The feedback that we’ve gotten back on the film so far is that it is very relevant. Our world right now feels like a world at a tipping point. We have to decide what we are going to do now. We come from this past, and if we’re honest about it, it’s a past of genocide and of the strong subjugating the weak. But, that’s not a sustainable plan for the future.

As a producer on the film, can you talk about the struggles of shooting abroad?
JR: Turns out you can’t just march into Yosemite with some horses and light some fires. It’s a lot tougher to shoot in some of the places we were looking for. There were a number of reasons at play. Number one was that Jacques was not so keen to abandon his whole team in Europe and go to Canada or America to try and make a film with a whole new group of people. Staying in Europe was one way to do that. And, then…Spain is just an incredible place. I had been to Barcelona before, but I have to say if you haven’t spent much time in Spain, then go! It’s unbelievable. First of all, there’s no billboards in Spain. None. Zero. So, when you’re driving around the countryside of Spain, it’s just the countryside. Imagine that! It’s a radical idea for Americans to think about. But, this idea that the landscape is basically unchanged. Then, there’s all this geographic variety there. Once all of the scout photographs started to come in from Spain and Romania, Jacques started to think that it wasn’t just possible. It was preferable. There’s all these vistas that haven’t been shot before. I think Spain was another great way to put a twist on it.

What was it like adapting the novel?
THOMAS BIDEGAIN: Well, as you’ll find out when you hear Jacques, we had to write in French. We actually wrote the adaptation in France. We even sent the screenplay to Patrick, the author of the book to check out the music of the dialogue and stuff like that. It’s the first time that Jacques got offered something and didn’t start it himself.
JACQUES AUDIARD: Absolutely. And, I loved that.
TB: So, actually the novel is written a lot in first person. It’s the inner voice of Eli. So, we had to find ways to transport that on the screen and keep a movie with a solid drive. We developed the characters of Maurice and Warm a lot. One of the differences there is the “utopia” which is not in the book. The utopia gives an added level of story, because if they didn’t have the utopia they would only talk about the gold. They would only talk about money, and money is just a stepping stone for something bigger. So, it’s actually the story of two guys chasing one guy chasing one guy who is chasing an idea. That’s the story of the movie.

Can you talk about the benefits and challenges from working with a multilingual crew?
JA: I don’t know if it was a challenge for me. I wanted to work with American actors for a while, but not to shoot in America. I wasn’t ready for that yet.
ALISON DICKEY: From the production standpoint we had the French team, and then we had a crew from Spain when we were in Spain. Our hair, makeup and wardrobe are from Italy. We had Milena Canonero who is amazing, a great costume designer.
TB: She did Barry Lyndon.
AD: She did Clockwork Orange, and she works with Wes Anderson right now. She is unstoppable. So, we had all these languages behind the scenes, and I also think it was an interesting reflection on Jacques take on the gold rush which was a community filled with immigrants. We had an interesting year between the extras, just gazillions of Chinese people. It was just fantastic. The result of that was that I think everyone had to speak with a lot of intention. You had to make sure you were using your words carefully and understood. I just thought that was a beautiful way to build a film community.
JA: I think that question should be asked to the first AD.
TB: He was the hero of the whole production.
JR: At a time of such strife in the world between countries and political parties, the fact that we put together this movie with French, Belgian, Spanish, Romanians, Americans, Italians is something that we are really proud of. We found a way to bridge all these differences for a unified vision.
JA: The set looked like the first days of America.

Jacques, can you talk about working with your cinematographer?
JA: I’ve seen his work, and I’ve been following his work for a long time through the films of Gaspar Noe and Harmony Korine. Very early in the process, we wanted to do it in black and white. The reference we had for this film was The Night of the Hunter. Cortez, the director of photography, used a lot of high contrast, and the equivalent for me was a lot of colors. I wanted the strong colors, and for the me the only DP that would work so well with color was Benoit Debie. Almost to bad taste. He uses a lot of color.

Even with that emphasis on color, though, the film starts with darkness.
JA: We think that, more than a western, this is really a fairy tale. So, it starts in the dark.
TB: We even worked, at one point, on a version of the screenplay that was all at night. We thought it would all be shot at night.
JR: Thank god that didn’t happen.
TB: And, then they get to the Mother at the end and the sun rises. We stopped that conversation when the producer got involved. Nights are hard. You need days and nights in order to know that time is passing.

How do you keep track of the multiple tones in the film?
JA: Well, we never know if it’s going to work. We write stories that will really evolve during the movie. The genre will evolve and the story will evolve also. So, when I end up in the editing room I have a lot of different material to work with. I like the idea that we are following characters and the form of the movie will evolve at the same time as the characters. The form becomes dramatic.
JR: That is a great attribute of all of Jacques’s films I think. That idea of balance that you’re talking about. Alison and I were in Los Angeles as different cuts were coming in, it was amazing to see how just a little too much of one scene, even like five seconds or something, would throw the balance of something off. It really is a masterfully done balancing act between these four people. Once you commit to getting to know four people over the course of the story, it requires a lot of playing with the light and the dark.
TB: I think there is only one rule when it comes to screenwriting: things are not what they appear to be. So, it’s the case with the story, but it’s also the case with the characters. They are not who they appear to be. It has to be the case with the movie, itself. It’s not the genre it appears to be. You think it’s a Western? Maybe, it’s a comedy? You think it’s a fairy tale, and then it’s a Western. It has to evolve. That’s the only rule.
JA: That’s how it also resembles life, because in life things are not what they appear to be. That’s the lesson for today.

Q&A with Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Free Solo.

Was the El Capitan free solo climb always the thing, or were you interested in Alex more generally?
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi: We were interested in Alex and interested in his process and interested in who he is as a human. Originally, we didn’t know about the El Cap project. Alex brought that to the table.

Jimmy Chin: When Alex told us that he wanted to free solo El Cap, we actually took a step back for several months and had to answer some hard questions for ourselves about whether or not this was the type of film we were ready to take on. For the obvious reason of risk, but also questions about how to do it and if that was even okay.

ECV: And, also how the filming, itself, affects your subject. We knew that we would be in it together. That was the thing for me.

“I felt like I was fully committed to this process no matter what.”

Can you talk about portraying Alex as a complex character, not just as a high-risk climber in the film?
ECV: Well, the character portrait was really important to us. We were interested in making a film that had depth, because the climb means more than just the climb. Hopefully, the film raises questions about what’s a meaningful life, and what are we doing with our lives. How do we confront our own fears? So, we were interested in those big questions, and the only way we could get to it was through the human character part of it. And, Alex is really interesting and very candid. He allowed us this wonderful access to be there while he prepared. When we first began shooting, Alex was internet dating. So, it was like we’re going to make a comedy. We thought it would be funny, and then he tells us about El Cap. Then he meets this wonderful woman, Sanni, who is just articulate emotionally. She’s got the self-confidence and self awareness and love for him to be able to push back and interact in ways that make Alex grow. So, as a documentary filmmaker that was a real opportunity. Also, the way that the crew was interacting with Alex was a huge part of this.

Alex, you’ve interacted with a lot of film crews. How was this experience similar of different from ones that you’ve had?
Alex Honnold: I mean it was similar in some ways, because the high angle filming was basically what I’ve done in the past but at a higher level. We all just spent more time on the wall making sure we were getting it. Because, over the two years that I was preparing to free solo El Cap, they were up there filming my preparation. So, basically we were all practicing what it is to be on the wall and shoot well. For me the huge difference was shooting the rest of my life. I’m used to shooting on the wall. As a professional climber that’s the day-to-day, in a way. But, to have someone in the van watching the relationship with my girlfriend was different. One of the things that I found kind of challenging was that we’d spend the whole day up on the wall preparing. You spend maybe eight hours physically toiling with the camera guy next to you. Then you get to the ground, and you’re like, “Now, it’s time to chill.” But, then a verité film crew picks you up and they’re like, “Okay, we’re all friends! Let’s go!” I was so pooped. Please just turn it off for a little while. But, I think that’s why the film does such a good job showing my real life, because that’s two years of my life right there. That’s it.

What was it like for you to watch it?
AH: It’s heinous. I think I saw it for the first time in this screening room. I was having flashbacks.

JC: Tell both sides.

AH: I have the opposite experience from the average audience I think. I watch the whole first hour of the film with my relationship with Sanni covering my face. Because, it’s hard to watch yourself. But, the actual climbing it’s like, “this is freaking glorious.” That is what I can do well. I’m bumbling my way through relationships and everything else. But, the climbing… I’m like, “that’s good.”

Jimmy, can you talk about working with your crew on the wall?
JC: Yes, the task really began in picking the team. We had an incredible team of really professional climbers that were also incredible cinematographers. That’s a very rare combination to have at the upper echelon. They have to be completely one hundred percent trustworthy as high end climbers. You should never have to worry about whether or not they’re going to make good decisions or if you trust them on the wall or if they can move quickly and handle all the stresses of being a climber. So, the discussion is always that you’re a climber first. And, then they are filming on top of it. There’s a handful of people in the world that can do it. It turns out, of course, that climbing is a small community on the upper echelon. So, we all have been friends with Alex, have climbed with Alex, several of them had been his climbing partners. It felt very intimate on top of everything else, and just an incredible crew.

AH: In a lot of ways it made it easier for me to do my preparations, because a lot of the people that I was shooting with were the same people that I would have been up there with anyway just on the wall. You see a shot in the film of me and Mikey, the guy that’s covering his eyes all the time.

ECV: The cinematographer who can’t watch.

AH: The two of us are rappelling down the wall together, and we were doing that day in day out. We would rappel down the whole face, all three thousand feet together, so that I could work on some specific part of the climb. He would film it, and then we would just keep going towards the ground. And, that’s pretty much what we would have been doing anyway. It was perfect. I’m up here with my friends, we’re working on my project, and they’re making a great film about it. It’s all very ideal for me.

ECV: That sounds very nice, but there was this other side to it. Everyone was so close that there was this special circle of trust that developed. Everyone was carrying the risk and living with the weight for those years. There was a commitment that was very special with the team.

How close were any of you to not going through with this film?
AH: I always wanted to free solo El Cap, and so whether the film existed or not I would have been working toward that goal. In some ways having the film involved made it easier to work on it just because I had people to talk to about it. so, I felt like I was fully committed to this process no matter what. Even if the filming was challenging sometimes like trying to have a conversation with my girlfriend with somebody in the van with us. Ultimately, I was like I’m still going down this path regardless.

ECV: I personally think the camera in the van is great couples counseling.

AH: In some ways it is though! It stresses the relationship in certain ways. We definitely grew faster than you would otherwise. Some people can date for a year by just going on the casual date a couple times a week. For us dating the first year was us living in a car together with somebody watching us talking about our feelings all the time. It’s a pretty intense way to start a relationship.

ECV: The question does get to the existential part of the film which is the risk involved. How could we participate or enable something like this? I think the answer always comes back to the core message of the film which is the idea of a life well lived. This is what Alex was dreaming to do, and this is the life he chose. Our job was really to not mess it up. Not on our watch, and that was hard. That was the ethical debate that happened every day. We tried our best as filmmakers to insulate Alex from it while still having a lively discussion with him about his comfort zones. It was intense. We’re really happy he made it.

When you’re on a wall that size is there improvisation at any point?
AH: There is a fair amount of easy climbing on El Cap. So, all the stuff that I’m narrating are the hardest sections of the wall. But, there are easy sections of the wall. So, some of those I didn’t necessarily know every single hand and foot placement, because you just don’t need to. It’s like walking on the sidewalk or something. Or if the sidewalk was pitched back or something. There’s some improvisation, but I had climbed the route many times. So, it’s not totally improv, because I’ve done it before. I just didn’t have it perfectly memorized.

Alex, can you talk about your foundation a bit more?
AH: So, I started the Honnold Foundation about five years ago, and it’s sort of been steadily growing over time. This year I hired a full time Executive Director who has really taken it forward. We basically support solar for a more equitable world, trying to make the world a better place through solar projects. We’ve sort of split our time domestically and abroad. We’ve supported maybe three or four different projects in Africa and then a bunch of support for this group, GRID Alternatives, domestically. So, I’ve done installations with them in California. Basically, I’ve just been using the foundation as a vehicle to support projects around the world. Part of them stemmed from going on climbing expeditions with Jimmy. We went on a trip together to Chad in 2009, and it was one of my first times seeing that level of need in the world. Combine that with the fact that I was living in a van, and I had a very low overhead. I was very happy with my life making more than I need, but there was so much other need in the world. The foundation was a way to try to address that.