From award-winning British director Lucy Walker comes her fifth full feature, the Sundance hit The Crash Reel (2013). A no-holds-barred look at the world of snowboarding and the tragic accidents that go hand-in-hand with such a dangerous profession, Walker’s latest captivates from the off, focusing on the traumatic brain injury suffered by 17-year-old pro Kevin Pearce in the build-up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Both uplifting and upsetting in equal measure, it’s also one of the year’s best documentary offerings.
Under the spell of the slopes from an early age, Pearce quickly found himself competing against pros far in advance of his years, before becoming established as one of America’s most naturally talented boarders by his mid-teens. Addicted to the high risk/high reward dichotomy offered by half-pipe stunt riding, Pearce was soon regularly competing against the world’s best boarders, including the now gold medal-winning Shaun White. Pushing himself to his very limits in the run-up to the Vancouver Games and in direct competition with White for a place on the US team, a tragic incident on a training course saw Pearce land from a jump onto his skull, resulting in the catastrophic brain injury that so nearly claimed his life.
Surrounded by a loving family – including brother David (pictured), who himself contests daily with Down’s syndrome – The Crash Reel follows Pearce’s two-year rehabilitation as he strives to get onto a snowboard once again, despite the deadly risks involved and the dismay this goal causes to those around him. Best known for previous outings Countdown to Zero and the Oscar-nominated Wasteland, Walker proves the perfect helm for this heartfelt tale of recuperation and redemption, blending an astounding 20 years worth of home video and TV coverage with footage of Kevin’s long road to recovery. Each Pearce family member and fellow pro comes across wonderfully on camera, and there’s a genuine lack of artificiality and contrivance that only heightens its emotive power.
Most painful are the frustrated discussions between post-crash Kevin and his kin, who are simply unable to understand why anyone would want to jeopardise their life on the slopes again after coming so close to losing everything. Comparisons are made on several occasions between Pearce’s hunger to compete again and other destructive addictions, with numerous interviewed former pros linking their traumas with subsequent drink and drug problems. Importantly, The Crash Reel is never didactic in its approach, preferring to listen to all sides of the argument rather than weighing in itself. It does, however, end incredibly poignantly, with Pearce forced to face-up to reality after the tragic death of yet another young Olympic hopeful, Sarah Burke.
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