THE CRASH REEL is the dramatic story of one unforgettable athlete, Kevin Pearce; one eye-popping sport, snowboarding; and one explosive issue, traumatic brain injury. Through 20 years of astounding action and verité footage, the documentary chronicles the epic rise of snowboarder Kevin Pearce which culminates in a life-changing crash and a comeback story with a difference. Directed by Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker.
Two-time Academy Award® nominee Lucy Walker directs THE CRASH REEL, an HBO Documentary Film, which had a World Gala premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. In THE CRASH REEL, Lucy Walker uses the intimacy and power of cinema verité to take us on an exhilarating ride through the life of Kevin Pearce, the American snowboarding champion who is preparing for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Footage from hundreds of sources recorded over two decades takes us straight to the beating heart of an incredible young sport, and asks the visceral, powerful question of the price we pay for our passions.
In THE CRASH REEL, Pearce has just come off of the most successful competitive season of his career, having won several events and challenging the dominance of his friend and rival, the American snowboarding legend Shaun White, every step of the way. Kevin’s professional ascent is happening at a time when snowboarding tricks are becoming more and more breathtaking – but also more dangerous. His epic sporting rivalry with Shaun has introduced airbags and foam-landing pits into the sport, reflecting the lengths each is prepared to go to attain Olympic glory. Kevin is poised to compete for the coveted Gold Medal, the pinnacle of the sport and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
But on December 31, 2009, while riding the slopes of Park City, Utah in final training for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Kevin just misses his landing on a complicated trick and takes a hard fall. His buddies, a group of fun-loving snowboarding professionals called FRENDS – who like to say “there’s no ‘I’ in friendship” – understand the situation immediately and rush to the scene of the accident, finding him unconscious and bleeding profusely. Kevin is airlifted to University Hospital in Utah where doctors scramble to save his life as his family, his father the glass and pottery artisan and entrepreneur Simon Pearce, his mother Pia, and brothers David, Andrew and Adam fly from their home in Vermont to be at his side. When Kevin finally wakes up from his coma, it is a huge relief, but it is only the beginning of a long road to adjusting to a traumatic brain injury, a lifelong disability.
The Kevin who wakes up is not the same as the Kevin who crashed: from language to vision, motor skills to memory, impulsivity to poor judgment, Kevin must come to terms with the slow pace of healing. The Pearces are no strangers to disability. Kevin’s brother David, who has Down Syndrome, is a remarkably eloquent and accomplished young man, and has won several medals at the Special Olympics. The love and support of this remarkable family propel Kevin forward, and over the course of 2010, he works with the passion of an elite athlete to get his mind and his body back to what they were. His goal? To once again experience the freedom and joy of riding his snowboard and to hear the deafening roar of crowds.
But Kevin’s doctors outline the severe complications and catastrophic consequences that would result from his continued participation in snowboarding should he have another accident; those who’ve suffered one Traumatic Brain Injury are six times more likely to experience another. Activities that once carried a moderate but acceptable level of risk are now extremely dangerous for Kevin. Put simply, if Kevin gets on a snowboard again, he could die. Having spent two years supporting Kevin’s recovery and always mindful of the horror of seeing Kevin lifeless after his accident, the Pearces each make their case to Kevin, pleading with him to reconsider his decision to ride again. Kevin remains unmoved, and his stubborn desire to snowboard begs the question of whether his brain injury has left him incapable of making good decisions.
The high stakes that accompany the snowboarding lifestyle are highlighted when tragedy afflicts a fellow winter sports athlete; Olympic hopeful Sarah Burke, a freestyle skiing champion who pioneered half-pipe skiing, falls and hits her head while training on the very same half-pipe in Park City where Kevin was injured. Sarah never recovers from the fall, passing away on January 19, 2012. With Winter action sports pushing the physical limitations of its athletes, as they fly higher in the air – with half-pipe walls raised to 22 feet – and attempt tricks that escalate in difficulty and danger, Kevin must find the delicate balance between the freedom of riding, and the inexorable risk that comes with it.
Ultimately, the Pearce family, giving full voice to their reservations, hold their breath as Kevin, slowly and simply, tries to find his feet on a snowboard. But Kevin, frustrated by his new limitations, makes a startling realization; he just can’t do it anymore, not like he used to. He’s a different person now – a brain injury survivor – and he has to forge a life for himself that reflects who he is in the present, not who he was in the past. Inspired by David who wears his heartfelt concern for Kevin’s safety on his sleeve, and the Pearce family’s commitment to his long term health, Kevin grows into a new form of self-acceptance, one that involves a last, painful goodbye. And so he bids farewell to his snowboarding dream, to the days when he was flying high as lord of the mountain, and he looks to the future. Never one to tackle a challenge with anything less than his best, Kevin finds his voice as an advocate for those who have suffered from brain trauma, bringing his infectious joy for life to supporting those with injuries, be they war veterans, sports men and women, or just ordinary members of the public, who through terrible tragedy, have discovered the paradoxical strength and fragility of the mysterious human brain.
THE CRASH REEL is a profoundly moving portrait of an extraordinary family confronted with a devastating injury, and come together to help a gifted athlete re-discover himself and find purpose and meaning in the wake of a lost dream.
HBO Documentary Films presents in association with Impact Partners a Tree Tree Tree production THE CRASH REEL. Cinematography by Nick Higgins; edited by Pedro Kos; co-producers, Jenny Raskin and Adam Pearce; executive producer for Impact, Dan Cogan; executive producer, Geralyn Dreyfous; For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins. Written by Pedro Kos and Lucy Walker; produced by Julian Cautherley and Lucy Walker; directed by Lucy Walker.
The Crash Reel: A Sports Movie About the Dangers of Sports
— The Atlantic, July 15, 2013
Life After a Brain Trauma, Caught On Film
— Outside Online, July 15, 2013
Q&A with Kevin Pearce as 'The Crash Reel' sets to air
— NBC Sports, July 15, 2013
Five Best Bets on TV This Week
— Indiewire.com, July 15, 2013
Crashing in Two Documentaries
— HuffingtonPost.com, July 15, 2013
Behind Jaw-Dropping Thrills, Heartbreaking Tales
— New York Times, July 14, 2013
On ‘The Crash Reel,’ Brain Injuries, and Never Giving Up
— National Geographic, July 14, 2013
The Crash Reel Debuts on HBO
— ESPN X-Games, July 14, 2013
Snowboarder Kevin Pearce's Rise and Fall
— The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2013
Back on the Slopes After Coma, Snowboarding Champ Kevin Pearce Believes in Miracles
— Yahoo! TV, July 10, 2013
A Sports Star's 'Crash,' Then the Search for a New Normal
— National Public Radio, July 4, 2013
A Thoroughly Winning Docu Portrait...
— Variety, February 5, 2013
A cautionary tale for the sport’s promoters and participants alike.
— The Hollywood Reporter, January 20, 2013