Overview: In 2009, American snowboarding champion Kevin Pearce was enjoying the most successful competitive season of his career, winning several events and challenging the dominance of his friend-turned-rival, the legendary Shaun White. And he does it all in a fine looking snowboarding jacket, if that’s something that appeals to you. But on Dec. 31, while riding the slopes of Park City, Utah in final training for the 2010 Winter Olympics, he suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him in a coma, followed by a long road of adjusting to what would be a lifelong disability. Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Lucy Walker, THE CRASH REEL is an exhilarating ride through the world of Pearce, whose story underscores the high stakes for extreme sports stars. The film was an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award at South By Southwest Film Festival.
Expectations: When the first initial blurbs came out for the documentaries to be presented in this summer series I quickly prioritized them according to my interests. This week’s offering did not rank very high. Usually when I know nothing, or next to it, about a subject matter I usually gravitate to it as I always want to learn something new. When I saw extreme snowboarding however I wasn’t excited. THE CRASH REEL ended up low on the list.
Now as the viewing of it approaches I have given notice to its press release and realized that I was misinformed of this work’s real focus. It takes place in the realm of snowboarding but is not about the sport, or the lifestyle of the athletes as seen through the talents of and life of Kevin Pearce. It is about, as the Overview indicates, the abrupt interrupt of young Mr. Pearce’s life because of the sport.
With the film taking that angle I am far more interested in the documentary. I am more intrigued by the impact this sport, this accident and this recovery has on the athlete than a history of the sport itself. Here is an introductory clip.
Gut Reaction: The sport of snowboarding is merely the backdrop for this film to hang from. The story is really about traumatic brain injury using Kevin Pearce as its main character. It really examines this young man and how he dealt what befell him. It deals with the severity of such trauma; the life changing alterations to the inflicted; the decisions that must be made; the pains and frustrations endured; the continuation, if you are lucky, as you live with the damage. Young Mr. Pearce and his family & friends take the viewer through all of it. To get there we need some background because to understand the thrill of snowboarding is to understand Kevin Pearce; the first thirty minutes or so is dedicated to just that. It sets up the athlete and his friendship/rivalry with Olympian Shaun White. That portion of the film builds the story so high, like being at the pinnacle of a 22-foot half-pipe, before we all crash down. And it does and we witness it in slow motion at minute thirty-one. Then, Kevin’s world changed.
But the tone of the film does not lose its upbeat attitude. Director Lucy Walker and her production team, as well as Kevin’s support group do a great job of making this an inspiring story even when things look bleak. And at 50 minutes into the film he arrives back home and his mind is focused on getting back on the board again even after he hears of the dramatic accidents and deaths of colleagues.
And there is where I leave it; I do want to entice you to see the documentary for yourself. Will he snowboard again?
In Conclusion: Regardless of his decision in the concluding portion of the film Kevin Pearce’s story is inspiring and captivating. I underestimated THE CRASH REEL but am glad I watched it. I hope many of HBOWatch’s readers take the leap and watch it too. You are in for a good ride but make sure you wear your helmet.
Other airdates: 07.18 at 11:30am, 07.21 at 4:45pm, 07.23 at 2:30pm and 07.27 at 12:15pm. HBO2 dates are 07.25 at 11:15am, 07.26 at 12:25am, 08.04 at 11:40am and 08.30 at 11:35am. It can also be found on HBOGo.