Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Crash Reel: It Happened in Park City

If they are smart, organized snowboarding and other extreme sports will get proactive about preventing serious brain trauma, like that suffered by Olympic prospect Kevin Pearce. Or they can just bury their heads in the sand like the NFL. Anyone care to lay odds on which course they take?  Perhaps Oscar nominated filmmaker Lucy Walker will shift the needle a bit with her HBO produced documentary profile of Pearce, The Crash Reel (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Pearce was sort of the Zenned-Out Natural, who generated jaw-dropping amplitude on his runs.  His friend-turned-rival Shaun White is depicted as the Ice-Man of snowboarding, who never made a mistake, but lacked Pearce’s indefinable X-factor.  While White was a driven lone wolf (or so he appears), Pearce led a free-spirited group of competitive snowboarders known as the “Frends,” because there is no “i” in there.  Then during a fateful training run in Park City (a town which holds continuing significance throughout the film), Pearce took a fall that is truly sickening to watch.

Obviously, this changes everything.  It is a slow process, but Pearce begins to the recover physically and mentally.  However, several individuals tangentially related to Pearce are not so fortunate.  In fact, their sad intersecting stories provide some of Reel’s most poignant moments. Yet, despite these tragic examples and the objections of his family, Pearce remains determined to make his competitive return.

Walker is a talented filmmaker, who really should have taken home the Oscar for The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom.  She skillfully broadens the Reel’s focus, without turning it into an outright advocacy PSA.  Walker and her team also culled through a remarkable wealth of archival and privately recorded video clips. Say what you will about extreme sports athletes, but they certainly document themselves thoroughly.  Unfortunately, they are not always wildly interesting as interview subjects.  Ironically, White is probably the most engaging on-camera presence, aside perhaps from another extreme skiing colleague, whose appearances take on tragic implications in the third act.

As fate would have it, Walker first met Pearce at an unrelated Sundance event and eventually premiered Reel at this year’s festival.  Yet, one wonders how the Park City snow sports industry will appreciate their unflattering role in the film.  Granted, the road-back section drags a bit from time to time, but there is clearly a reason why every scene was included.  Indeed, it would make an effective (if somewhat depressing) double feature with Steve James’ Head Games. Recommended for fans and critics of snowboarding and related sports, The Crash Reel opens theatrically this Friday (12/13) at the IFC Center.