Oscar-Winning Director Talks About Kevin Pearce Documentary, Which Debuts Tonight
HBO tonight at 9:00pm ET will debut “The Crash Reel," a documentary that tells the story of Olympic hopeful Kevin Pearce, who suffered a brain injury as a result of a tragic snowboarding crash before the '10 Vancouver Games. Pearce was expected to challenge Shaun White for gold at the Olympics, but instead found himself fighting for his life and struggling to relearn how to communicate and walk. Oscar-winning director Lucy Walker took on the project after meeting Pearce at a Nike athlete summit in '10. The movie touches on everything from the history of snowboarding and Pearce’s rivalry with White to his effort to snowboard again and decision to launch a brain-injury awareness campaign called “Love Your Brain.”
Q: You met Pearce at one of Nike’s athlete retreats. What was your first impression of him?
Walker: My first impression was that he had a brain injury. His eyes were looking in different directions. His head was shorn. It was his first outing after the accident. He kept reintroducing himself to me. But I also thought, just as strongly, "What a charismatic superstar.” He was humble and hardworking and earnest and had this endearing quality. I immediately wanted to find the whole story from his point of view. I immediately thought, “Wow, this would be an amazing movie.” I wasn’t sure it would be a feature film. It was only as I observed him and got to know him and saw what he wanted to do next and saw that he wanted to go back to the sport, but was so brain injured (that I realized a movie was possible because) I wondered what would happen here.
Q: There’s a tremendous amount of footage in this, including footage of the crash, which you didn’t witness. How did you get it?
Walker: We got footage from 232 places to tell the story. That might be a record in the documentary world. It was an archaeological dig. It was a challenging but rewarding job because you wanted to do justice to Kevin’s story and how much he’s grown as an athlete and human being.
Q: How much time did you spend with Pearce for the film?
Walker: We started filming two-and-a-half years ago. It was a day here, an eye surgery there. There was nothing they ever didn’t want us to film. Pia (Pearce, Kevin’s mom) certainly has an attitude that with a disability you shouldn’t be quiet about it. You should be courageous enough to share it.
Q: Kevin’s family looms as large in this film as he does. His father is a world-renowned glass blower. One of his brothers, David, has Down syndrome. At what point did you meet them? And how did you determine how much to feature them?
Walker: When I was weighing (the project) at the beginning ... I heard about Kevin’s brother David. I thought, “Wow, what must it be like to have two sons with disabilities.” I heard that the family was wonderful, and they really are. We see so many dysfunctional people without real problems but issues. What’s amazing about this is you really see a functional family. It’s like a parenting lesson. It’s one of the rich areas of food for thought for the film.
Q: You highlight Shaun White, who is interviewed in the film, kicking Pearce out of a hotel room they were sharing after Pearce beat him at a competition. Did you run into any resistance in exploring some of White’s reputation as being so competitive?
Walker: We were very judicious about what we chose to put in (about White). We were so grateful that he wanted to participate out of respect for his fallen comrade. The competitiveness is widely known, and it is kind of cool. People do have a sense of what it’s taken for him to get to the top.
Q: What do you hope people take away from this movie?
Walker: I want them to think that it’s a dazzling movie and it’s worth an hour and a half of their time. It’s not a message movie. It’s a proper movie, movie. Kevin’s journey is remarkable and raises a lot of questions about how to live and how to accept the challenges in life and how to take curveballs and play difficult hands gracefully. How to be a family. How to be an athlete. There’s lots of rich food for thought.