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‘Free Solo’ Directors Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin Set Patagonia Love Story as Next Film (EXCLUSIVE)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER
National Geographic/Bryan Bedder

While their most recent doc “The Rescue” – which has a market screening this week at IDFA – continues its festival and award-circuit run, directors Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have been at work in the edit suite prepping their next big-screen effort – a decades spanning love story mixing business, philanthropy, and the great outdoors.

Speaking with Variety, Vasarhelyi offered new details of the long-in-the-work project, which had previously gone by the title “Tompkins.” Produced by National Geographic and aiming for a mid-2022 launch, the still-untitled doc will follow the complicated relationship between conservationist and climber Yvon Chouinard, founder of apparel brand Patagonia, Douglas Tompkins, co-founder of the North Face and Esprit brands, and Kristine McDivitt, the former Patagonia CEO who later married Tompkins.

“It’s a big love story with a major female protagonist, which is a big step for us,” says Vasarhelyi. “It’s the story of three people and the friendship and love they shared. It inhabits the incredibly private worlds of Jimmy’s original mentors, who were best friends, though two totally different types of people. And it’s the story of Kristine.”

As with previous films “Free Solo” and “Meru,” the upcoming project will explore the world of elite climbers – in which Chin is a leading figure – mixing adventure footage, shot in the Tompkins’ private nature reserve Patagonia Park, with interviews and archival material to explore this unconventional relationship.

“Doug named the highest mountain in their park Cerro Kristine, after his wife,” says Vasarhelyi. “Jimmy climbed that mountain with Doug and Yvon in 2001, [and, after Doug’s death in 2015] Kris really wanted to climb the mountain named after her. So the film will be more of a meditative journey about how we got there.”

That process took some time. The filmmakers began work on the project several years ago, shooting the last bit of footage in February 2019. Though they had originally intended this film to follow-up their Oscar winning “Free Solo,” the focus shifted when the opportunity for “The Rescue” came up – a fact that speaks to the latter project’s expedited timeline.

“This has been a sprint,” Vasarhelyi says of her most recent film. “[It’s been] non-stop for the past eight months! We were so desperate trying to finish it that we showed one version at Telluride, another one at Toronto, and [kept working on it] until the film’s release.”

With “The Rescue” now out in the world and the filmmakers accompanying it along the international circuit, Vasarhelyi is relieved to be able to focus her attention on new projects. “You have to be distracted by something else, to start thinking of new ideas,” she says. “We just saw our first cut of our next doc, so creatively, we’re in the real deal moment again. We’re understanding what we have, tackling the problems that have been obsessing us – and it’s been so nice to have that.”