Running up to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Kevin Pearce, a talented snowboarder favored to compete for the United States, struck his head while training on a half-pipe in Park City, Utah. He suffered a traumatic brain injury resulting in years of rehabilitation, as well as the end of Pearce’s career on the board. Pearce’s accident, his recovery, and the effect of his injuries on his family are covered in Lucy Walker’s documentary, The Crash Reel.
While the documentary is strong in portraying coming to terms with finding a new purpose in life, I wasn’t convinced by how the director told the story. Originally, I came away from The Crash Reel thinking that the injury wasn’t the intended subject of the film, but rather his rivalry with Shaun White. The way the documentary was framed, the content of events leading up to the injury, filming during the recovery process, and the comments from interviewees all seemed to point to the idea that Lucy Walker started one place and had to steer the film in a whole other direction. The crash changed what the documentary was about. However, I am surprised that this isn’t the case at all.
In a screening event covered by Filmmaker, Walker discussed how she met Pearce six months after the accident. She put together a large portion of the film from sports coverage, family videos of the recovery, and amateur videos from other snowboarders (one of these covers the fall), which is why the film seems disjointed in its filming and narrative. Many documentaries do this very thing, but Walker tries to sew all these scenes together as if it was all an organic creation. Because of this, you question if this a documentary about Pearce’s snowboarding talents? Is this about rivalries? Is this about the huge risks of traumatic brain injuries in extreme sports?
The film is about all these things, but it’s at its best when The Crash Reel is about how an individual can rebuild a new life for oneself and find a new identity. Pearce was a snowboarder and it takes everything from his doctors, his family, and himself to see that he can’t be a snowboarder anymore. But he does and this film shows how he gets there and it’s worth seeing for this alone.