The Crash Reel: Interview with Director Lucy Walker

We talk to the woman telling the incredible story of Kevin Pearce's recovery

13:29 14th January 2014 by Alex Burd
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The Crash Reel tells the story of the meteoric rise, sudden fall and painful recovery of snowboarder Kevin Pearce. At his height Pearce was amongst the best in the world, however this all changed with one accident in 2009 which left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury. Crash Reel charts his rehabilitation and attempted return to the sport he loves – it has recently been nominated for the prestigious Directors Guild Awards and the Oscars.

MPORA spoke to Oscar nominated director of the film, Lucy Walker, ahead of the film’s digital release…

MPORA: When did you first become aware of the story of Kevin Pearce?

LUCY WALKER: I heard about the crash at the time when it happened but I didn’t meet Kevin until the summer after the crash (2010), so about three and a half years ago now.

When you started making the film it wasn’t clear how Kevin’s recovery was going to go. Did you go into the film hoping for a certain outcome in order to provide a better storyline for the documentary?

If I had any hopes they were from a human perspective. I wanted him to be as happy as possible, I didn’t know how his condition was going to turn out. From a directorial perspective, I wouldn’t have taken on the project if I hadn’t been sure that no matter what happened it would make an interesting film. Not knowing what was going to happen was part of what made it so appealing – I think that’s part of what makes it so intriguing to watch.

Photo: Charley Gallay

English Oscar nominated director, Lucy Walker. Photo: Charley Gallay

Much of the film follows Kevin’s desire to return to snowboarding, why do you think he was keen to return to the sport after a near fatal injury?

Kevin just loves snowboarding, it was the thing that drove him during the early stages of his recovery. It was everything to him: his job, his life, his identity, his goal, his ambition, his social circle, his religion. For that to change after the crash it was really hard for him to deal with that being taken away.

The recovery was far from plain sailing and through the film there are highs and lows. At times Kevin gets angry and frustrated with his condition and with his loved ones. Was it ever hard to be there with the camera?

You know, Kevin’s amazing. He’s just so comfortable with the camera on him. Part of it is because he’s been a professional snowboarder, he’s used to it. But also he’s just so generous and open, it’s part of who he is. I think that’s part of his family philosophy that if you have a difficulty or a disability than you share it and not be ashamed, it’s part of how he’s grown up. It’s great for the film, he just opens up for the audience and we get to go deep inside him and see what he’s dealing with and struggling with.

Photo: Adam Moran

Kevin Pearce at the Dew Tour before his accident. Photo: Adam Moran

I’m glad you mentioned the family. They’re incredible, from his father, a renowned glass blower to David, his old brother who has Down’s Syndrome. For me, he almost stole the show. What was it like getting involved with such a close family?

It was fantastic, it was a treat to work with them. I used to joke that I was trying to get adopted. Kevin’s brother David was a revelation. I didn’t know that people with Down’s Syndrome could be so eloquent and self-aware about their condition. He’s so emotionally switched on and understanding of himself. Dramatically he was fantastic due to his ability to say what everyone else was thinking.

One of things David externalises that the rest of the family tip-toe around is their opposition to Kevin snowboarding again. Whose side were you on amongst that tension?

It wasn’t just his family’s views but Kevin’s doctors too. Only recently Kevin has come round to that point of view. I must say that I was worried about Kevin, I believed what his doctors were saying and trusted their desire to be extra-cautious. Due to his injury his brain was at high risk to further damage, especially with any kind of hit or impact.

Shaun White features heavily in the film, a divisive figure in the world of snowboarding. What did you make of him?

I am a big Shaun White fan. He’s been a prodigy and that can be lonely. It was important to tell his back story so that when he starts meeting up with Kevin he finds it so strange that there is someone like him and someone as good as him. He was alone at the top of the sport for almost a decade and then suddenly he had a contender – I thought it was important to show that background. He’s an incredible competitor and masterful at what he does.

Kevin Pearce and Shaun White at the Winter X-Games in 2009, six months before  Kevin's crash. Photo: Matt Morning/ESPN

Kevin Pearce and Shaun White at the Winter X-Games in 2009, six months before Kevin’s crash. Photo: Matt Morning/ESPN

Shaun White and other snowboarders such as Scotty Lago and Danny Davis speak about their own near misses and accidents in the film. It makes you so aware about the fine margins in snowboarding that can be the difference between life and death.

Exactly, and what’s amazing about the clip of Kevin’s crash was that they’d caught it on camera. The video was there and you can watch it frame by frame as it goes wrong. That minute error that changes the life of Kevin Pearce.

The margins get even thinner and smaller as competitions and media push for bigger and more exciting events. Do you think the organisers have a responsibility to the guys who compete and get involved and if so are they meeting it?

I think there is a responsibility and I hope the industry is really stepping up to meet it. The athletes are so passionate and so competitive and they’ll keep pushing things as far as they can, it’s in their nature. I think it’s important that the safety conversation keeps up with the speed that the athletes are progressing at. The fun of the sport is that they’re pushing the sport as their own initiative, there’s very few coaches involved and the kids are so creative.

So the film is being released online a week before the Winter X-Games which will be followed by Sochi; who is your money on to take gold? Do you think Shaun White can make it three in a row?

I don’t know, I can’t wait to see. I was really upset when Luke Mitrani got injured, he broke his neck in New Zealand training. I really had a soft spot for him. Scotty Lago is another one, I think he’ll do well, and the kid from Japan, Ayumu Hirano. It’s going to be great, I don’t mind who wins, I just hope everyone gets through ok.

 

The Crash Reel is available on DVD and via digital download from Amazon and iTunes from today, January 14th. Find out more about the #LoveYourBrain campaign here.

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