by Kathie Smith
Unless you are a snowboarding aficionado, the name Kevin Pearce is likely an unfamiliar one. But on the 2008 professional circuit leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Pearce was winning competitions by edging out his former buddy Shawn White on nearly every slope. Staged to be the star of Vancouver, Pearce packed his bags and hit the snow with his friends for a little fun and a little training. And on a fateful New Years Eve in Park City, Utah, practicing a trick on the half-pipe—a so-called cab double cork, considered an essential move for the 2010 Olympic competition—Pearce, at the age of 22, miscalculated, clipped the edge of the hard-packed snow on the half-pipe, hit his head and suffered a devastating traumatic brain injury.
Film Society of Minneapolis St Paul - St Anthony Main
Director: Lucy Walker
Producers: Geralyn White Dreyfous, Sheila Nevins, Julian Cautherley, Lucy Walker, Sabrina Doyle, Martha Eidsness Mitchell
Writers: Pedro Kos, Lucy Walker
Cinematographer: Nick Higgins
Editor: Pedro Kos
Cast: Kevin Pearce, Simon Pearce, Pia Pearce, David Pearce, Andrew Pearce, Adam Pearce, Shaun White, Luke Mitrani, Jack Mitrani, Scotty Lago, Danny Davis, Jack Burton,
Premiere: January 18, 2013 – Sundance Film Festival
US Theatrical Release: December 13, 2013
US Distributor: Independent
Although the title of Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel certainly suggests the accident, it does not prepare you for the frightening effects the injury has on Pearce and the frustrating struggle of a debilitated adrenaline junkie. Crash Reel opens with the kind of gonzo that you might expect from a documentary about snowboarding: a quick introduction to Pearce and his robust family before going fisheye on the antics that have made snowboarding such a popular sport. This all happens at such a frenetic pace that when Pearce falls very early in this story, you’re not sure what has happened to whom. But given the skill of Lucy Walker, whose credits include Waste Land (2010) and Devil’s Playground, this cursory overview is probably by design, setting up a striking contrast to the intimacy and patience of the remaining hour and a half.
The trauma to Pearce’s brain causes a litany of abstruse and nightmarish problems, initially inhibiting his verbal and motor skills and further down the line effecting his sight and memory. His rehabilitation is slow and painful, but that’s only half the battle once he recovers his compulsive desire to return to the sport of snowboarding. As exasperating as it is to watch Pearce coherently insist on trying (and his beleaguered family’s response), apparently the impulse to get back on the horse, or whatever the case may be, befits a status quo with sport related brain injuries—multiple traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, are just one of the risks taken on as a matter of course in professional sports like skiing, football, motocross, and snowboarding.
Walker balances talking head interviews with chronicling Pearce’s very rough road to something close to normalcy by being right by his side, never soft-pedaling Pearce’s public and personal trials and occasionally exploiting the intimate privilege granted to his everyday life. Pearce was part of a tight-knit snowboarding group called “frends,” (friends without the “i”), but one of these so-called frends openly admits that he’s embarrassed of some of Pearce’s post-injury behavior. This sort of bluntness also carries over into what is depicted of Pearce’s personal life, openly displaying his fears, angers, and belligerence, sometimes to an uncomfortable degree. The film’s inclination to toss around messages—safety, helmets, etc.—eventually subsides to the heartfelt integrity of this young man’s story told without judgment.
On the eve of the Sochi Olympics (where Pearce will be partaking in the opening ceremonies), The Crash Reel is a cautionary tale, not necessarily on the danger of respective sports, but on our role as spectators demanding faster, higher, and better from our athletes. Kevin Pearce began nurturing his ability and desire to meet those challenges at a very young age with his competitive passion propelling his natural skills. Although this sort of drive was the probable source for his near-impossible recovery, The Crash Reel unblinkingly shows that it is also the source of his inability to move on and channel energy elsewhere. The film dangles an oft-used excuse for living life dangerously, adopted here by a snowboarder as an explanation: “The brave do not live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all.” Walker’s documentary is split between people who subscribe to this bravado and those who do not, yet instead of insisting that we take sides, she helps us understand them both.