Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

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Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi at Sundance 2015
Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi at Sundance 2015
Born1977/1978 (age 42–43)
Other namesChai Vasarhelyi
E. Chai Vasarhelyi
OccupationDirector, producer
Years active2003–present
Spouse(s)Jimmy Chin
WebsiteOfficial website

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (born 1977 or 1978)[1] is an American documentary filmmaker. She was the director, along with her husband, Jimmy Chin, for the film Free Solo, which won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film profiled Alex Honnold and his free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017.

Early life and education[edit]

Vasarhelyi grew up in New York City, and is the daughter of Marina Vasarhelyi, a college administrator, and Miklós Vásárhelyi, a college professor.[1] Her father is from Hungary and her mother is from Hong Kong.[2] Vasarhelyi is a graduate of The Brearley School. She holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Princeton University.


Vasarhelyi worked in 2004 as an assistant to director Mike Nichols on the film Closer and has worked extensively with Emmy-Award-winning cinematographer Scott Duncan documenting events such as the Dakar Rally.

Her first film, A Normal Life, won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2003. Her second film, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love, was released in theaters in the United States and internationally. The film premiered at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals and won numerous awards including the Special Jury Prize at the Middle East International Film Festival in 2008 and a nomination for the Pare Lorentz Award at the 2009 International Documentary Association Awards.

In 2013, Vasarhelyi completed Touba, a documentary on the annual Mouride pilgrimage, the Grand Magaal in Touba, Senegal. It premiered at SXSW 2013, where it won the Special Jury Prize for Best Cinematography.

She returned to Senegal to document the presidential elections of 2012. Incorruptible (formerly An African Spring), the story of Senegalese democracy, won the Independent Spirit Truer Than Fiction Award in 2015. In 2015, Brandon Wilson from IndieWire wrote that Vasarhelyi's "familiarity with the country pays dividends and elevates the piece from being just another tale of civic dysfunction on the African continent." [3]

One of Vasarhelyi's films as a director include the highest grossing independent documentary film of 2015, Meru (Oscars Shortlist 2016; Sundance Audience Award 2015). Variety magazine said: "Jimmy Chin and E. Chai Vasarhelyi's Sundance audience award winner is one of the best sports documentaries of its type in recent years."[4]

Vasarhelyi and Chin's 2018 film Free Solo won the People's Choice Award: Documentaries at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.[5] The film has received critical claim as both a riveting documentary and a profound story of human endeavor.[6] Jeannette Catsoulis from The New York Times called Free Solo, "an engaging study of a perfect match between passion and personality."[7]

Vasarhelyi and Chin discuss filming the climb in their New York Times opinion piece, saying, "Throughout history, documentarians have had to struggle with the blurred lines of their responsibility to their subjects. We were haunted by the possibility that our presence might put him at more risk every time we turned on the cameras." [8] Vasarhelyi has directed a New York Times Op Doc, an episode for Netflix's non-fiction design series ABSTRACT, and two episodes for ESPN’s non-fiction series Future of Sports.

Free Solo won the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Vasarhelyi has received grants from the Sundance Institute, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Bertha Britdoc, the William and Mary Greve Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts.

She was selected as a 2013 Sundance Documentary Film Fellow, named one of Filmmaker magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2005[4] and received an Achievement Award from Creative Visions foundation in 2008.

Personal life[edit]

Vasarhelyi married Chin, a photographer for National Geographic and a professional skier and climber, on May 26, 2013.[1] Their daughter, Marina, was born on September 25, 2013, and their son, James, was born on December 7, 2015. Vasarhelyi lives in New York City with her family. Vasarhelyi met Chin at a conference at Lake Tahoe in 2012.[9]




  1. ^ a b c "Elizabeth Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin - Weddings". The New York Times. 26 May 2013.
  2. ^ Chase, Lisa (September 12, 2018). "The Filmmaker Turning Climbing Porn into Oscar Bait". Outside Online.
  3. ^ Wilson, Brandon (18 June 2015). "LAFF Review: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhely's Election-Spanning Political Chronicle, 'Incorruptible'". IndieWire. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  4. ^ Harvey, Dennis (6 May 2015). "Film Review: 'Meru'". Variety. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  5. ^ "TIFF 2018 Awards: ‘Green Book’ Wins the People’s Choice Award, Upsetting ‘A Star Is Born’". IndieWire, September 16, 2018.
  6. ^ Morgenstern, Joe. "'Free Solo' Review: Gripping Drama, Surpassing Spectacle." The Wall Street Journal. 27 September 2018. Accessed 16 November 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/free-solo-review-gripping-drama-surpassing-spectacle-1538079769.
  7. ^ "Review: In 'Free Solo,' Braving El Capitan With Only Fingers and Toes". Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  8. ^ Vasarhelyi, Elizabeth Chai, and Jimmy Chin. "What If He Falls?" The New York Times. October 31, 2018. Accessed November 16, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/31/opinion/what-if-he-falls.html.
  9. ^ "Tiger of the Week: Documentary Filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi '00". Princeton Alumni Weekly. 8 July 2013.
  10. ^ "Chai Vasarhelyi." Free The Bid. Accessed November 15, 2018. https://www.freethebid.com/directors/chai-vasarhelyi/.
  11. ^ a b "Documentary Awards." Critics' Choice Awards. Accessed November 15, 2018. http://www.criticschoice.com/documentary-awards/ Archived 2017-11-12 at Archive.today.

External links[edit]