When professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce crashed in the half-pipe in 2009, his life’s trajectory took a turn for the uncertain. After barely surviving a devastating head injury from the fall, Pearce’s recovery ultimately became more than just returning to full health.
Enter filmmaker Lucy Walker. In “The Crash Reel,” the Oscar-nominated documentarian opens a door to Kevin and his family as they struggle with how to handle Kevin’s injury and recovery. The intimate interactions between family members highlight the horrors of traumatic head injuries and the effects they have on loved ones.
“There are a lot of snowboarding films and athlete recovery films that are really upbeat and gloss over the difficult moments, difficult questions – you know, the really troubling stuff,” Walker tells KBIA. “I don’t think the films are very strong as a result. I know that to make a strong film we had to be really strong about the truth and brace ourselves to be difficult.”
One of the biggest tasks for Walker was gathering all the archival footage to tell Kevin’s story leading up to his accident. “232 people had pieces of the puzzle that we tracked down and put together. It was a massive job on that front,” Walker says. “It was [from] all over the world in different people’s closets, in different companies’ vaults, in different friends, family members, coaches, schools contests TV stations other peoples projects sponsorships photo shoots, Olympics qualifying videos.”
Though Pearce's story is the backbone of the film, Walker also honors Sarah Burke’s story. She died in Park City in January 2012. And Walker says she hopes veterans who have suffered brain injuries can also find connection to Pearce’s journey post-tragedy.
In light of the film, Walker has teamed up with Pearce to launch the “Love Your Brain” campaign. Its goals are to raise awareness about traumatic brain injuries, inspire and incentivize safety, and support those post-injury, among others.
Did you feel like you had a responsibility and loyalty to portray Kevin's family in a certain way?
I think you have – when you make documentaries – a sort of infinite responsibility to the truth and to the people that you’re filming. Somehow that was not anything I worried about. It’s just very instinctive for me, I suppose. With this family, they didn’t put any restrictions on me. They never said turn the camera off or you can’t use that in the movie. I think that’s where the strength of the film lies in that real honesty that they possess.
The people who shoot these snowboarding or skiing films are very passionate about their sport. Did you feel like, again, that you had a sense of responsibility to portray the sport in a certain way?
I think when people have agendas and are trying to promote different things, human beings smell that. Documentary is the place where we can ignore those pressures and try to come to our own best understanding of a world, and a story, and a situation and a sequence of events.
There is pressure to show the glamor of the sport and not the downside. It’s definitely a concern, I think, for some of the people in the sport not to show the horror of what Kevin has been through. Kevin is not the poster boy of the sport. Kevin’s injury points out the problems of the sport.
I’m also a girl and not a snowboarder. So you have to contend with people thinking that because you’re not an expert insider that you’re not going to be able to make a movie. I’ve come to learn to ignore that response because with every film [I’ve made I’ve] faced doubts from men, from experts, who look at me and say who is she? What does she know? She can’t make a film. I never listen to that kind of thinking anyway. I’ve never believed that.
If you could sum up what message you want the audience to take from the film, what would it be?
It’s a really powerful story that’s hard to sum up because in many ways it’s not a snowboarding film at all. It becomes about family and growing up, and self-awareness and accepting one’s limitations. I think we’re all confronted with terrible limitations – grief and loss and a challenge in our life. For me, the film becomes a real fable about that and about growing up, honestly.
"The Crash Reel" is set to screen at the True/False festival with director Lucy Walker Friday, March 1 at 10 p.m. at the Missouri Theatre; Saturday, March 2 at 1 p.m. at Jesse Auditorium; and Sunday, March 3 at 8:30 p.m. at The Blue Note.