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What to stream: Take in ‘Wild Life’ as well as filmmakers’ prior documentaries

May 25, 2023 Updated Fri., May 26, 2023 at 12:05 p.m.

Co-directors/co-producers Jimmy Chin, left, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi speak onstage during the New York premiere of “Wild Life” on April 11 at the Museum of Modern Art.  (Ilya S. Savenok)
Co-directors/co-producers Jimmy Chin, left, and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi speak onstage during the New York premiere of “Wild Life” on April 11 at the Museum of Modern Art. (Ilya S. Savenok)
By Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

Oscar-winning filmmaking team Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi, who won the Academy Award for best documentary for their 2018 film “Free Solo,” have a new film available to stream this week. “Wild Life,” which premieres on National Geographic channel May 25 and streams on Disney+ and Hulu May 26, follows the journey of former Patagonia CEO and conservationist Kris Tompkins as she works to fulfill the dream project she began with her late husband Doug Tomkins, the founder of The North Face and Esprit. The outdoor lifestyle entrepreneurs left the business world behind to undertake a decadeslong effort to create national parks in Chile and Argentina, in the largest private land donation in history.

“Wild Life” is a contemplative film that packs in the life and love story of Kris and Doug, and follows Kris as she moves through grief in order to bring their project to fruition. It’s a moving story of one woman’s life and mission to do what she can in order to preserve this special part of the world, as well as an illuminating portrait of the evolution of the outdoor lifestyle and what true political and conservation action means for those who pioneered it in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“Wild Life” is the fourth film co-directed by filmmaker, photographer and mountain climber Jimmy Chin (who also appears in many of his films) and his collaborator and wife, the documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. Their work focuses primarily on mountaineering, climbing and other outdoor adventure topics, with themes of personal perseverance and ecological conservation running throughout. “Wild Life” is a more personal portrait, but it’s very much in line with the rest of their work, which is also available to stream.

Their first film, 2015’s “Meru,” followed Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk as they summit the “Shark’s Fin” of Meru Peak in the Himalayas. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Audience Award, and was shortlisted for an Academy Award. It features Chin and Vasarhelyi’s signature blend of adventure, danger and intimate portraits of the people who undertake these kinds of harrowing adventures. Stream it on Prime Video, Tubi, Kanopy, or rent it elsewhere.

“Free Solo” documented Chin’s friend and superstar climber Alex Honnold’s free solo (no ropes) climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Fair warning for anyone afraid of heights – it’s a tough, edge-of-your-seat thriller to watch, especially the second half, but the first part of the film is a fascinating exploration of Honnold’s mind, his apparent lack of fear, and what it means to be in an intimate relationship with someone who undertakes such dangerous endeavors. A well-deserved Oscar winning doc, stream it on Disney+ or rent it elsewhere.

In 2021, Chin and Vasarhelyi turned their cameras toward the incredible rescue of a Thai junior soccer team from Tham Luang cave in 2018, focusing on the story of the divers who rescued the boys. The story was also made into the 2019 Thai action-drama film “The Cave,” and the 2022 drama “Thirteen Lives,” directed by Ron Howard. Stream “The Rescue” on Disney+.

Chin and Vasarhelyi also worked on the 2022 Disney+ series “Edge of the Unknown with Jimmy Chin,” in which Chin also appears. They directed two episodes of the series, which follows adventurers and athletes sharing stories of their most extreme outdoor endeavors and confronting fear, loss and Mother Nature. Stream it on Disney+.

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