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Cross-cultural Duo Win Emmy For Death-Defying Documentary

Free Solo — the documentary by husband-and-wife filmmaking duo Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi — won the couple the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program at the 71st Emmy Awards on Sept. 22, 2019. The movie follows Alex Honnold, as he attempts a ropeless climb of El Capitan, a vertical rock formation located in Calif., U.S.A.’s Yosemite National Park. It also gives an in-depth look into the history of climbing at Yosemite, how Honnold’s loved ones felt about his daring climb and the risks involved with such a rare attempt.

Chin and Vasarhelyi have won many awards for this action-packed film, including the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, a BAFTA for Best Documentary and an Audience Award at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, just to name a few. The couple owns Little Monster Films.

They’ve won awards for quite a few of their other international documentaries, including Meru, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love, Touba, and Incorruptible.

Both visionaries are avid travelers, and the majority of their films are focused outside their home country of the United States. Between the two, they’ve adventured and filmed in Senegal, Argentina, India, the United States, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Tanzania, Chad, Mali, South Africa, and Borneo.

But the ability to produce powerful cinematography isn’t the only thing they have in common — both Chin and Vasarhelyi grew up in cross-cultural homes.

I’m a “change the world” person. That’s how I’m wired.

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Chin was raised in rural Minnesota, U.S., speaking Mandarin at home and frequently visiting Taiwan to visit family, ensuring close ties with his heritage. “I loved going to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial [Hall] in Taipei to watch all the old Chinese people doing tai chi and practicing kung fu,” Chin told National Geographic in a 2015 interview.

Vasarhelyi, whose father is Hungarian and whose mother is from Hong Kong, was pushed by her parents to work hard to achieve her goals, and work hard she did. Out of dedication to creating her film Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love, she moved to the West African country of Senegal for five years. “My grandmother passed away while we were in the middle of shooting, and I couldn’t go to the funeral. It was awful.” Vasarhelyi told New York Magazine back in 2009, “But I’m a ‘change the world’ person. That’s how I’m wired.”

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5 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article. It amazes me that a majority of their films were filmed outside of their home country and they both grew up in multicultural homes. I can’t imagine the amount of cultural fluidity Chin and Vasarhelyi have. They are both deserving of every award given to them and I hope they continue to share their TCK viewpoints in the future.

  2. I had no idea that this film was made by a cross-cultural couple! In addition to their cross-cultural backgrounds, their love for travel must provide them with a truly unique perspective when producing films. I cannot wait to see what they do next!

  3. I was so excited to read this article as I have been very interested in seeing this film since it came out! It was very interesting to read about the directors/producers cross-cultural backgrounds and where they had come from as well as what has driven in the film industry. This article has made me more informed about the creators of this film and made me want to see their other films! Excellent and inspiring read.

  4. It is very interesting looking into the background of directors and being able to see what may have inspired them and their message. It is very cool to know how the couple is cross cultural and how that plays into the film.

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