Margo Hayes in the documentary 'Break on Through.'
Margo Hayes in the documentary 'Break on Through.' (Photo: Greg Mionske)

The Fall Documentaries We’re Most Excited About

Check out these seven new docs from the biggest film festivals of the season

Margo Hayes in the documentary 'Break on Through.'

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It’s that time of year when the weather starts to get a little too cold for desert climbing but the snow is not quite there yet. We suggest you embrace this brief shoulder season. Take an extra rest day.

Here’s an activity for you: Check out these new documentaries premiering at the season’s big film festivals. Watch quiet crushers and professional athletes setting big goals and stopping at nothing until they meet them. Get into the mind of a world-famous alpinist, and learn what hawks can tell us about an ecosystem’s well-being. When you’re done, get off the couch and get back outside already.

‘Break on Through’

Last February, 19-year-old Margo Hayes of Boulder, Colorado, became the first woman to climb 5.15a, a grade few men have achieved, when she sent La Rambla in Spain. In September, she climbed a second 5.15a, France’s Biographie. “I don’t know anything about 5.15,” says Alex Honnold in the film. “I’ve never climbed 5.15. I’ve never even tried 5.15. I’ve never even touched the holds on a 5.15.” Break on Through shows just how painful it is to chase 5.15, following Hayes’ many attempts and, ultimately, her success on both ascents. Hayes is a poised, laser-focused athlete whose self-described obsessive personality and drive (and positive attitude) get her to the chains on these two remarkable climbs. Premiering and playing at Reel Rock 12.


An in-depth portrait of the life of widely adored conservationist Jane Goodall. The film taps footage—previously thought to be lost—from National Geographic archives that was shot by her future husband Hugo van Lawick during her adventures in Gombe, Tanzania, in the early 1960s, when Jane was in her mid-twenties. The archival footage is complemented by modern-day interviews with Goodall, whose unorthodox approach and the decades she dedicated to understanding chimps have informed what we know about our closest living relative. Bonus: The score was composed by Philip Glass. Currently playing at select theaters.

‘2.5 Million’

This film documents skier Aaron Rice’s 2016 quest to ascend 2.5 million feet of human-powered vert in the backcountry in one year—and break the world record. That’s 10,000 feet every single day. After years of working odd jobs and being a ski bum, Rice was looking for some sort of direction and purpose. He knew the world record was 2 million feet but thought humans were capable of more. So he set off to do it, facing all the injuries and physical and mental exhaustion one might expect of the feat. Premiering at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.


Stumped is a humorous and honest profile of climber Maureen Beck and her attempt to climb 5.12. Beck was born missing the lower part of one arm and is pretty tired of being an inspiration just because she climbs. “I don’t want to just be a good one-armed climber. I want to be a good climber,” she says. What is inspiring about Beck, though, is that she took something she once thought impossible and worked at it until it became possible. She spent five months and tried her project 50-plus times before finally sending 5.12. A parody news broadcast asks viewers, “Could it be possible that disabled athletes are just regular athletes and the rest of us who find this so inspiring are just boring assholes with no fucking clue?” Premiering at Reel Rock 12.

‘Sky Migrations’

Ecologist Charles Post plays host on a journey to follow the Southwestern U.S. segment of raptor migration that starts in North America and extends the length of South America. The crew tracks the birds from a Hawkwatch International research station in Nevada, through Utah and Colorado, to a station in the mountains of central New Mexico. The film, equal parts serious and light, introduces viewers to the network of stewards, volunteers, and field scientists who collect data about the raptors. As apex predators at the top of the food chain, the birds serve as indicators for the overall health of an ecosystem. If something is happening with the raptor population, it often indicates that something else—something deeper—is going on. Premiering at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

‘Above the Sea’

Chris Sharma is notorious for his yelling as he reaches for improbable holds, and Above the Sea features plenty of his screaming high above crashing ocean waves. But it’s also, at times, a quiet film that chronicles the legendary climber’s attempt of a first ascent on the steep, overhanging cliffs of Mallorca. If he sends, it will be one of the hardest (if not the hardest) deep-water solos on record. Premiering at Reel Rock 12.


Chris Bonington is a prolific mountaineer. He started climbing at age 16 and went on to put up multiple first ascents. He made the difficult first ascent of Nuptse in 1961 and the first British ascent of the Eiger’s North Wall in 1962, Everest’s Southwest Face in 1975, and the Ogre in the Karakorum in 1977. He also led the first ascent of Annapurna’s South Face in 1970. The 83-year-old has kept climbing even into his eighties. This film examines the life of a premier alpinist and offers a glimpse at the man behind those feats, as Bonington looks back at the risks he’s taken and loss he’s experienced in the mountains. Premiering at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Lead Photo: Greg Mionske

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