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Director with Hungarian Roots Wins Oscar for Best Documentary Feature

Fanni Kaszás 2019.02.25.

Chinese-American-Hungarian documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and her husband, climber and filmmaker Jimmy Chin, took home the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Free Solo at yesterday’s ceremony.  

Vasarhelyi, the daughter of Hongkonger Marina Vásárhelyi and Hungarian Miklós Vásárhelyi, grew up in New York City. With 20 years of film-making under her belt, this Oscar nomination is not the first time critics have praised her work. Free Solo itself has already bagged 44 nominations and 14 awards from festivals and critics around the world. The film follows climber Alex Honnold’s 2017 rope-free ascent of Yosemite’s El Capitan—a feat he accomplished in three hours and 56 minutes, thus becoming the first person to scale the iconic 3,000-foot granite wall.

The film competed with four other documentaries: Hale County, This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross), Minding the Gap (Bing Liu), Of Fathers and Sons (Talal Derki) and RBG (Betsy West, Julie Cohen).

Hungary’s two-year Oscar streak ended last year when Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul didn’t take home an award and the Hungarian films close to snagging an Academy Awards nomination in 2019 (Ruben Brandt, the Collector and Sunset) were unable to reach the final round. In 2016, László Nemes’ Son of Saul won the award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. In 2017, Sing took home the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

featured photo: Elisabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (left), husband Jimmy Chin, Evan Hayes, and Shannon Dill (Beth Harris/AP)