Pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce sustained a traumatic brain injury in 2009 attempting a Cab double cork in the halfpipe in Park City, Utah, while he was training to compete against longtime rival Shaun White in the Olympics.
Now, four years later, Kevin heads back to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival premiere of the HBO documentary film 'The Crash Reel,' filmmaker Lucy Walker's look at Kevin's grueling recovery and return to the mountain. It's an intimate but intense glimpse at a guy who nearly died doing what he loves, and made a miraculous recovery despite the odds.
Walker has directed four award-winning documentaries: 'Devil's Playground,' about Amish teens deciding whether to stay in the community or leave for the wider world; 'Blindsight,' following six blind Tibetan teens as they attempt to climb the 23,000 foot Lhakpa Ri mountain near Everest; 'Waste Land,' an Academy Award-nominated film about Brazilian artist Vik Muniz who returns to Brazil and collaborates with the pickers in the world's largest garbage dump; and 'Countdown to Zero,' about the nuclear arms race.
She's no stranger to Sundance and if you've seen her past films, you know 'The Crash Reel' is going to be an intense, moving, gut-punch of an experience. We talked to Walker right before she headed off to Sundance for the film's premiere.
RedBullUSA.com: Making a film is a huge commitment. How did you hear about Kevin and decide that you wanted to approach him about a film and devote a few years of your life to his story?
Lucy Walker: I saw the stickers about Kevin, the 'I Ride 4 Kevin' campaign, in 2010, all over the place in Park City. They were all over the kids and all over the mountain. Because I like to ski myself, I read about Kevin's accident in the news. It all began in Park City and now it's the opening night film in Salt Lake.
RedBullUSA.com: When you found out more about Kevin, what really drew you into his story, and into the world?
Lucy Walker: I'm always drawn to exceptional characters and exceptional worlds. Kevin is compelling, humble, hard working and inspirational. After the accident he was forced to dig deep, and now he can walk and talk. For action sports athletes, the stakes are so high and it's so gorgeous to watch. These kids are inventing it as they go and pushing the sports so rapidly and thrillingly, you can't pull your eyeballs away watching these kids in a halfpipe. I wanted to set a stunning film in that world.
RedBullUSA.com: What did you take away from the experience, once you finished shooting?
Lucy Walker: These athletes are so daring and have so much courage and guts. They have balls and are such badasses with perseverance and grit and stick-to-itiveness. It's all about passion and determination and courage.
RedBullUSA.com: You've worked in some pretty harrowing environments in your films and shot in some challenging conditions. Did this movie have any specific challenges, as far as the actual shooting?
Lucy Walker: Kevin's family is such a delight, and Shaun White and everyone who participated in the film were so gracious and fun. I've filmed at Everest, in a garbage dump in Brazil, so this film was a joy to make!
RedBullUSA.com: What are your plans for 'The Crash Reel' after the big premiere?
Lucy Walker: We have a lot of exciting plans to show the film internationally in all kinds of formats -- in theaters, on HBO, around the world, at special events, and through all these exciting new technologies. We are also launching a big #loveyourbrain campaign to raise awareness and help prevent Traumatic Brain Injury, and to assist those who have suffered one, and to further Kevin's work as a TBI survivor.
"You have to dig deep and have courage when you're snowboarding. This is about seeing their courage off the slopes. It'll be the first time the fans can really see a deeper journey and get inspired on a new level."
RedBullUSA.com: You said you love to ski -- did making this film change your approach or your feeling about the sport at all?
Lucy Walker: I don't think my approach has changed radically -- I loved it before and I love it now. I had started to wear a helmet before making the movie, and I definitely always wear a helmet now since that's what saved Kevin's life and a lot of other people's. I now know all about the stats and so I can't go back.
But I'd say that I'm a slightly better skier, as I've spent the past months and years in the edit room watching footage of expert skiers and snowboarders, and I think that's had a noticeable effect as I was just skiing at Whistler over the holidays, and I seem to have improved slightly since last season! I think I can imagine what Sarah Burke would look like doing whatever I'm doing, since I've watched it so many times, and that inspires me to ski better.
RedBullUSA.com: At the end of the day, why should other snowboarders and skiers check out the film?
Lucy Walker: There are so many cool films about action sports and the athletes. I wanted this one to be intimate and real: raw, honest, deep stuff. You have to dig deep and have courage when you're snowboarding. This is about seeing their courage off the slopes. It'll be the first time the fans can really see a deeper journey and get inspired on a new level.
The Crash Reel premieres Friday, January 18, as Sundance's Salt Lake City gala screening and then screens at X Games Aspen on January 23.
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