South by Southwest audience favourite and HBO exclusive The Crash Reel is the latest documentary by veteran director Lucy Walker, who is well known for her ability to provide insight into triumph after tragedy, regardless of the difficulty to do so. This film is no different, giving us a chance to peek into to the life of Kevin Pearce, snowboarding champion and 2010 Olympic hopeful, before and after the traumatic brain injury sustained while training, that left him disabled and desperately seeking a way to regain the life that he knew before.
Using actual footage from over 232 different sources as well as interviews with friends, family and fellow athletes, The Crash Reel reveals Pearce’s progression to success, the accident that changed his life, and the process of recovery in this touching and sometimes heartbreaking story of the fall and rise of a professional snowboarder whose career was abruptly cut short. The film begins by introducing the very tight-knit Pearce family via intimate and charming photos and video footage from their home in Vermont. Every bit the perfect image of a loving and supportive family, mother and father Simon and Pia document with affection the relationship their four sons share, as Andrew, Adam, David and Kevin all grow into their individually specific, yet common interest in winter sports.
Kevin eventually develops his love for snowboarding into a lucrative competitive profession following in the footsteps of his older brother Adam, and with his ‘Frends Crew’ (There’s no “I” in friends, y’see) by his side, quickly becomes a force to be reckoned with. A competitive nature with then-friend Shaun White develops into a full blown rivalry as he begins to surpass White in competitions until, bitterly no longer see each other as friends, both begin scrambling to learn tricks that will give them the upper hand over the other. It was this, a game of rock-paper-scissor, and a beautiful morning in Park City, Utah, that brought us to the accident that took Kevin from Olympic favourite to comatose with severe traumatic brain damage after attempting the “cab double cork” trick and failing to land on his feet.
What follows is the long and painful process of a person who is unwilling to accept that an accident could take from them something that has been a passion, dream and source of happiness for his entire life. Kevin, with the help of his ever-present family, recovers while insisting all the while that he will pick up right where he left off in his career. His family spends the following two years desperately pleading with him to accept that the danger and risk of his aspiration could kill him, pleas which fall on frustrated ears as he is, at first, confused and as time progresses, angry at them for not understanding his need to continue pursuing what he loves so much.
The Crash Reel takes a poignant look into the full spectrum of a physically and mentally traumatic experience and the effect it has on every single person involved, not just the survivor. This film does an excellent job communicating the risks athletes take with extreme sports, and gives touching insight into the family members affected by those who have suffered these events and lost the person they once knew, be it literally or figuratively. Keep an eye out for a true gem in the form of David Pearce, one whose heart and mind is a force that reaches right inside of you and leaves a bit of his light in return.
Director Lucy Walker has stated that “When you are trusted with the story of someone in a documentary, you can’t mess up.” Well a tipping of the hat must be aimed in her direction, as she provides a truthful look into Kevin Pearce’s life before and after his accident, despite not always displaying him in a positive light, because, in real life, recovery is not always a positive experience.