By Don Simpson | March 4, 2013
Director: Lucy Walker
When I first heard the title of Lucy Walker’s newest documentary, The Crash Reel, I immediately pictured something along the lines of Jackass. Of course, once I connected Walker’s name to her impressive resume of previous documentaries (Countdown to Zero, Waste Land, Devil’s Playground), I knew that The Crash Reel would not just be a compilation of snowboarding accidents — or, if it was, then there would be an ulterior motive, the images would not just be for our amusement.
Despite my awareness of the hype about The Crash Reel during Sundance, I somehow was able to avoid learning anything about the content of the documentary. This is a good thing because — to be brutally honest — I would have probably never seen The Crash Reel if I knew what it was actually about. Going into The Crash Reel completely cold (mind the pun) allowed me to ride the rollercoaster of emotions along with the Pearce family, the subjects of Walker’s documentary; this also insured that I would enter the film not remembering anything about the history of the primary subject, snowboarder Kevin Pearce. As the story unfolded, I had absolutely no idea what would happen next, whether the next scene would be happy or sad. There is really something to be said about watching a documentary like The Crash Reel with no knowledge of the subject.
The Crash Reel is studiously compiled from hundreds of hours of archival footage shot by Kevin Pearce’s family and friends, because luckily Pearce is from a generation that dutifully records anything and everything that they do and say. Walker also fully immersed herself into the Pearce family, recording incredibly intimate moments and conversations. Not only do they seem incredibly comfortable around Walker and her production crew, but they seem to be totally unaffected by the presence of the camera. This allows Walker to provide us with an unfiltered window into their hearts and souls; so, we are able to observe the Pearce family as they experience one of the most harrowing events that will probably (hopefully!) ever happen to them. As they are put through the emotional wringer, we are too – especially those of us with little to no memory of Kevin Pearce’s recent past.
Walker’s film is not just a documentary about a family that bonds together during a recovery process, but it also serves as a condemnation of extreme sports. Walker observes athletes who are addicted to high risk activities, who are willing to put their lives at stake in order to feel a rush of adrenaline. These athletes are revealed to be incredibly selfish, not thinking about the effect that their risky hobbies or careers may have on their families and friends. The blame does not all rest upon the athletes though; society is also to blame. Sports continue to become bigger, faster and more dangerous because the audience demands it. From the days of gladiators, humans have found danger and injuries to be extremely enthralling. People enjoy watching people get hurt, sometimes even die. People like Kevin Pearce are a product of this culture. Take the danger away from him and what else does he have? Since Walker is thankfully willing and able to conceal the answer to that question until the very end of her film, I am not going to spoil that for you either. I have said it a million times already, and I will say it once again… The Crash Reel is an amazing documentary that will blindside you with some really unsuspecting narrative twists; so, do yourself a kindness and watch it before you start doing any research.