The Crash Reel

Art & Culture

It is very rare for me to see a film about which I know literally nothing as I sit down to watch it. It is also equally rare for me to see a film of such heartbreaking brilliance that it makes me a) cry and b) want to tell everyone about it. What follows may therefore be something of a gush.

The Crash Reel was shown at the Berlin Film Festival today, in the presence of Lucy Walker, the director. It arrives hot from Sundance, and already trailing clouds of potential glory. As a starting point, it compares favourably with Senna with which it shares certain elements.

If you know about snowboarding , which I don’t, then you have heard of Shaun White, and probably of Kevin Pearce. White has been the all conquering hero of the sport for many years, winning the Gold Medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Pearce was his younger rival, who had beaten White in several competitions, and was regarded as a contender for gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. At a practice session in Utah, 2 days before New Year’s Eve 2009, Pearce had a catastrophic crash, and was helicoptered to hospital. It seemed possible that he would die, and probable that he would be severely damaged for life. I’m not giving anything away by telling you this. It is the opening sequence of the film.

From there on, we go back first of all to Kevin’s childhood, born into a family of 4 brothers, one of whom, David, has Down’s Syndrome (this is a significant part of the story). And while we’re talking about the family, I should just say that they are the family from heaven. If you were ever wonder who got the good parents, well, it was the Pearce boys, and the six of them (boys and parents) are the joint stars of the film. It also turns out that the father, Simon, is an internationally successful glass maker, and the family’s financial wellbeing plays an important role in the care that he receives after the accident.

Back to the storyline. Kevin and his brothers (we are told) all have dyslexia, and outdoor pursuits like snowboarding fulfil them in ways that academic work never could. Kevin became one of the top snowboarders in the US and his rivalry with White had an element of Senna vs Prost (which is one of the reasons I make the comparison). The early part of the film shows his rise to the top, and how White responded to his ascendancy being threatened (not well).

From there we move to the story of recovery (OK, that is a bit of a giveaway), and how Kevin and his family come to terms with the situation, and as I say, they are extraordinarily impressive; not least in that (according to the director) they asked for no editorial control, and allowed amazing access to moments when you wouldn’t normally want cameras around.

One of the interesting elements of the film is that it was forged out of 4000 hours of footage, gathered from 232 different sources. So although Lucy Walker and her crew obviously shot some of the footage themselves, they had unique access to all the film clips assembled of Kevin not only in his family and the hospital, but also on the slopes and in competition. Another fascinating aspect is that the film goes in directions that are unpredictable from start to finish. Initially, it seems as though it will be about tragedy; then it’s about rivalry, then recovery, then family, then honesty and self-awareness, and so on throughout.

I cried mainly because I’m a father, and watching the parents dealing with the enormity of what happened to their son is enough to make anyone cry. But there’s also the sense of loss for the families we see who don’t get their son or daughter back, and also tears for the beauty of the human spirit, and if that’s sounds cheesy, then so be it.

Have I gushed enough yet to make you want to see it? If not, then I’ve obviously failed miserably. When the film is released in cinemas, as it will be in the UK, they may try and market it as being a snowboard film, or about triumph over tragedy, or some other individual aspect. Whatever you do, don’t be discouraged by the marketing campaign and allow yourself to be put off by the way it’s sold. You have a beating, functioning heart, right? Check and see if it’s active. OK? Then this is a film for you. Trust me.

BTW. Great soundtrack, worth the admission fee alone. See it and weep.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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