WHEN THE BACK-FLIP GOES WRONG

~ Posted by Alexia Millett, July 22nd 2013

The British documentary-maker Lucy Walker received Oscar nominations for "Wasteland" and "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"—her latest film should earn her a third. "The Crash Reel" centres round Kevin Pearce, a toothy Vermont snowboarder with a dopey smile and long, unkempt hair. By 22, Kevin was famous in the snowboarding world for jumping off an 18ft-high ramp onto the vast semicircular snow gutter known as the halfpipe and doing back-flips off its 22ft-high side walls. He could be 40ft in the air.

One day, training for the 2010 Winter Olympics, he had executed a double-cork twist over a hundred times, and then one went wrong and he landed on his head. The footage of the crash—the blood in the snow, his wide-eyed friends—is horrible to watch; worse still are the videos of his family’s teary smiles taken during Kevin’s 26-week coma. As Kevin regains consciousness, he thinks he can carry on competing and smiles distractedly as a doctor tells him if he hits his head again he will die. For a year after the crash he doesn’t even realize he is on anti-depressants. When he eventually takes this all in, he faces an existential question: if Kevin Pearce can’t snowboard, then who is he? The film intercuts footage of Kevin winning international competitions with his fight to come to terms with traumatic brain injury.

Walker uses over 11,000 clips in "The Crash Reel" from toddler videos to news reports, yet one person stands out—his older brother David, who suffers from Down Syndrome. "I know I have a disability," he says, "I really hate it." Yet he has lived his life as best he can. David competes in the swimming and skiing "Special Olympics" and wins gold in both. (There's a brief shot of him on the winner’s podium, his medal glinting off his thick glasses.) David is really the only person who can help Kevin with his struggle, and as Kevin starts to recover, David talks more and more about his own experiences and his concern for his brother. After two years Kevin is readying himself to get back on his snowboard. At the family thanksgiving, David looks Kevin in the eye when no one else will: "Please don’t do any more corkscrews. I just don’t want you to die." Kevin smiles at his brother, "I promise I won't." A film about snowboarding turns out to be a film about coping with adversity.

"The Crash Reel" opens in Britain and Ireland in the autumn and in America and Canada in December.

Alexia Millett is an intern at Intelligent Life. Her previous post for the Editors' Blog was Murray and the crowd are through