AIFF 2013: “The Crash Reel” – Review by Daniel Rester

The Crash Reel Review

by Daniel Rester

            The Crash Reel is the best film I saw at the 12th Annual Ashland Independent Film Festival, and easily one of the best films of 2013 so far. The film is a documentary directed by Lucy Walker, and her follow-up to 2010’s Waste Land. While I’m not generally a huge fan of documentaries, there is no denying the impact Reel had on me. This is a great documentary. 
            Reel follows the story of Kevin Pearce, a professional American snowboarder whose life took a major turn in 2009 after he suffered a serious injury. After attempting a cab double cork while practicing in Park City, Utah, on December 31st, 2009, Pearce came down on his head and was then rushed to a medical center. It wasn’t until June the next year that he was allowed to go home to Vermont. Soon after the incident, Pearce showed interest in getting back to snowboarding. However, the aftermath of his brain injury may prevent him from ever being able to compete again. 
            Before seeing Reel, I didn’t even know of Pearce, as I don’t really follow professional snowboarding or sports in general. Walker made the smart choice of telling Pearce’s story on a large scale, so people unfamiliar to him (like me) would be able to learn more about him and not just the crash. Reel doesn’t just focus on the one event and its effects on just Pearce, but rather tells a rich life story and shows how the event affected many. 
            After opening with the crash itself, Walker backtracks to the beginning of Pearce’s life. He was born in 1987 in New Hamphire, but raised in Vermont – where he still lives. He is the son of Simon (a world-famous glass artist) and Pia Pearce. His three brothers are Andrew, Adam, and David, the latter of whom has Down syndrome. While his brothers were involved with sports also, Kevin began to excel at snowboarding at a young age. The first part of the film tracks these early years, and includes a lot of home video footage of the Pearce family. 

Lucy Walker (left) with Joanne Feinberg (Director of Programming for the Ashland Independent Film Festival) 

The next part of Reel chronicles Pearce’s success as a professional snowboarder. He competed in many events, and even won three medals at the Winter X Games XII in 2008. The film also applies focus to how Pearce was once friends with (legendary snowboarder) Shaun White. After Pearce started beating White at some competitions, though, the two became rivals. Pearce was even acknowledged as a possible person to beat White in future Olympics competitions.
This section of the film also talks about the Frends Crew (purposely spelled without the “i”), which is a group of snowboarders and friends that try to return the sport to its grassroots and focus less on the business side. Pearce is a member of the crew, which officially formed in 2007. Many of the other members are interviewed in Reel. 
The final part of Reel focuses on Pearce’s injury, its immediate effect on his and others’ lives, and how it affects them today. It shows Pearce’s struggle to realize that he may never compete again. Reel also gives more attention to some of Pearce’s family members at this point, most notably David. There are also scenes that show and discuss other athletes that have been injured. One major part of the film discusses the late Sarah Burke, who had her accident on the exact same pipe that Pearce had his. But in the end, the film shows how such skiers and snowboarders remain inspirations to their fans and peers, despite all that they have been through. 
Walker handles the film in a heartfelt and meticulous manner, combining new and old footage amazingly in order to tell Pearce’s story. But Walker really owes a lot of credit to Film Editor Pedro Kos (and his assistants) for compiling everything. The way Kos edits the film is remarkable, making it as kinetic as a Danny Boyle film at times but also slowing down occasionally for dramatic moments. Walker and Kos also manage to give every family member and others a strong point of view, allowing them all to become relatable and interesting. 
The soundtrack to the film is also awesome.  While it features some original music by Moby, there are also tracks by M83, Underworld, Canned Heat, Chemical Brothers, etc. All of the tunes perfectly complement each scene in the film. 
At only ninety minutes, Reel somehow feels lengthy and repetitive at times. But that is minor complaint that I have about the film. For the most part, Reel is both gripping and thought-provoking, saying a lot about sport love, brain injuries and their toll, family strength, competitive natures, etc. It also packs an emotional wallop and memorable imagery. Pearce is an inspiring individual, and the film perfectly paints his life story. 
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-). 

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