The Crash Reel debuts on HBO

A scene from the Kevin Pearce documentary "The Crash Reel." The film screens at X Games Aspen on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

If you thought Jeremy Jones made the heaviest snowboard films around, you haven't met two-time Academy Award-nominated Lucy Walker, director of "The Crash Reel." A Venice, Calif., transplant by way of London, England, Walker tells the story of Kevin Pearce, his rise to the top of snowboarding's competitive elite as Shaun White's only real threat -- in the 2010 Olympics, but also snowboard contests in general -- and of the tragic halfpipe training accident that took it all away.

First, this is a story of hope and love, and of the challenges a young man and his family have faced through his remarkable recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Almost as compelling, though, is Walker's thought-provoking look at action sports and the athletes who put it all on the line for our entertainment -- often with disastrous consequences. It's food for thought in our extreme culture.

The "Crash Reel" premieres Monday, July 15, on HBO at 9 p.m. ET. How did you get involved with this project?
Lucy Walker:
I was at a retreat for Nike athletes and happened to meet Kevin there. This was his first outing of this sort after his injury. Upon hearing his story I immediately got to thinking, "How could this be a movie? Is the story over, or is there more to it?"

I just had a feeling it wasn't over. And truth be told, Kevin's crash was not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of it.

What has the context of your previous films been?
All of my films are real documentary features and non-fiction movies that are designed to be as entertaining as fiction films, or even more so. I aspire to make really proper films that aren't your average boring documentaries that people might find important but aren't necessarily fun to watch.

I've done a film about art called "Waste Land," a film about nuclear weapons called "Countdown to Zero" and a film about the Amish called "Devils Playground."

Some people might look at my previous work and say, "How can you make a snowboarding movie?", but actually my movies often take you into a different world and I think it's sometimes helpful to be an outsider.

Kevin Pearce, through the years

Having immersed yourself in our world throughout the making of the film, have you developed any personal thoughts on action sports?
It raises questions for me personally, and there are some troublesome issues. I think some things are glaringly obvious, like these kids should have health insurance, and adequate insurance at that, in case something catastrophic were to happen.

It's very troubling what's happening with head injuries, but it's also very hard to change the game. So I appreciate how tricky this situation is.

It's just important that the conversations about injury prevention keep pace with how quickly these sports are developing, which is very quickly. There is a line and we need to be educating kids on this. That is where the #loveyourbrain campaign comes in.


Director Lucy Walker with Kevin Pearce at the premiere of the film at Sundance this year.

What is #loveyourbrain?
It's a fund started by Kevin to support families and patients who have incurred traumatic brain injuries. Through the website you will find different things, like education on what to do if you do hit your head -- because among the community I think there is a general lack of awareness [about] what to do there.

There is a scene in the movie with another snowboarder who had a traumatic brain injury, named Trevor, and I understand that he just didn't get help soon enough.
Yeah, the people around him simply weren't educated on the proper thing to do, so they let him go to sleep because he felt tired after hitting his head.

This is the exact opposite of what you should let happen. He woke up later that night having a seizure and that's why his brain is so damaged.

So we want to spread this education on what to do if you do hit your head, on any level.

One of the athletes in the film who has been injured brought up the idea that part of the entertainment value in these sports is the fact that people want to see other people get hurt.
I think there is a history to that going back to the gladiators and people getting hurt for entertainment. I think there is a human-nature aspect to that.

The film confronts that in that it shows the reality of a crash, which is a lot less glamorous.

When you get into the real pain that is caused by the accidents and take a close look at it, it's a lot less fun than watching a crash reel.

Did you have a message you wanted to convey?
I don't really have messages. I don't like to look at my films like that. I just thought it was a story and Kevin was an interesting character. It's very rich food for thought, what happened to Kevin, but is really designed to be the story of Kevin rather than a film with a message.

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