Friday evening, Sept. 27, The Milwaukee Film Festival (http://mkefilm.org) screened their first and only showing of the Competition Film, "The Crash Reel". This documentary tells the incredible story of Kevin Pearce as he suffered a traumatic brain injury at the height of his snowboarding career and 2010 Winter Olympic training. "The Crash Reel" only had one screening during The Milwaukee Film Festival, which was Friday at 7 p.m. at Downer Theater.
The documentary begins with footage of the day Pearce went to train for the Olympics with his snowboarder friends and suffered his injury. It happens very abruptly and without warning and quickly shifts to the story of Pearce's life from toddler to professional snowboarder. This in itself is unique because, even though the audience knows ahead of time that they are going to watch Kevin suffer a traumatic brain injury, there is a lot of time spent focusing on Kevin as a person and Olympian-in-training before the accident is reintroduced and his recovery becomes a focus. While some might dislike a drawn out back story for a character in a fictional film, showing Kevin's family and journey as a snowboarder makes his accident all the more heart-breaking for the audience.
Part of the background story for Kevin Pearce is his relationship with Shaun White. This is expected as there was a lot of hype surrounding Kevin and Shaun in the Olympics since Kevin beat Shaun in several competitions and was the reigning snowboarding champion's main threat for taking the gold. In the years of footage before the accident, Shaun White is shown as one of Kevin's great friends and a close member of their group. However, White is later shown to be a success-crazed snowboarding champion who willingly sacrifices long-term friendships in the spirit of competition. It becomes clear that Kevin and Shaun were no longer friends at that point, but the two seem to be reconciled after the accident, though this is not touched upon in the film.
[Shaun White] is a machine athlete who has one goal and that's to win.
One of the main points of disconnect between Kevin and Shaun was how connected and sharing Kevin was with his family and friends. There is a lot of emphasis on the Pearce family throughout Kevin's life, especially during the recovery process. As Kevin pushes for his family to accept his desire to snowboard competitively again, the audience shows what the accident and fear of future injury does to his parents and siblings. Particular emphasis is placed on Kevin's brother David. The audience sees the Pearce family embrace David's Down Syndrome as well as hear directly from David what it's like to live with disability. As the documentary progresses, David becomes more of a presence and expresses how frightened he is for Kevin after the accident. And though there are many tear-jerking moments throughout the film, David stands out as someone who shows complete honesty and love during the best and worst of times.
This incredible true story of building success, tragedy, recovery, and acceptance is one that, while moving and applicable for both snowboarders and non-athletes, is difficult to watch. As one might expect in a documentary called "The Crash Reel", there is a lot of live footage of bad crashes in snowboarding as well as other sports. These injuries, not to mention Kevin's recovery process, is something that must be stomached in order to get to the point of the film. This is not a documentary to steer people away from extreme sports like snowboarding, skiing, or motocross, but does make a point of making people aware of the risks in these increasingly dangerous sports. It also emphasizes the importance of these sports and what they do for people. While it seems crazy that someone who suffered a blow as life-altering as Kevin's would want to continue competing, it's clear that snowboarding isn't just a hobby for Kevin and that these sports do much more than give athletes an adrenaline rush.
Already generating Oscar buzz, this documentary does an excellent job of showing Kevin's journey, the importance of family and friends, and what's important in life. "The Crash Reel" is an extremely moving film that covers a range of topics while focusing on one pivotal event that drastically altered more than just Kevin's life. The Milwaukee Film Festival audience certainly suggested that "The Crash Reel"'s Oscar buzz is well merited.