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HBO's The Crash Reel: The 'Definitive Film On Brain Injury'


HBO's The Crash Reel: The 'Definitive Film On Brain Injury'

There's never been a documentary like HBO's "The Crash Reel," which debuts Monday at 9 PM before coming to theatres later this year.

And that's exactly the point, says director Lucy Walker.

A brain injury "is such an insidious injury," she told me when we spoke last month. "It's physical and it's mental and it's social and it's practical. It affects everything."

But not many filmmakers have tried to capture that breadth, or used pro sports as a backdrop. That's one reason "The Crash Reel" stands apart, detailing snowboarder Kevin Pearce's rise, fall, and recovery.

"I don't think there's been a film like this before," Walker added, noting that one recent reviewer called her documentary "the definitive film on brain injury."

Having screened the movie, I'd absolutely agree. Although Walker had an advantage: She basically got to make two films in one.

"The Crash Reel" first tells the story of Kevin Pearce, rising young star of pro snowboarding. And that arc - which takes up about 30 minutes of the documentary - is often thrilling, with stunning scenes of snowboarding tricks set against a fantastic soundtrack.

We meet Pearce's family - a father who founded a well-known glass company; a mother who has a PhD in education; and three older brothers, including one who has Down's syndrome. We see Kevin's pro-snowboarder pals (or FRENDS, as the group ultimately brands themselves; there's no "I" among friends, they make a point to stress). And we watch as Pearce separates himself from the pack, moving up the medals podium and, increasingly, standing on top of it.

"This is not Shaun White," read one ESPN Magazine headline from January 2009, "but Kevin Pearce might be just as good."

Yet the movie builds to a disturbing moment that was teased in its first few minutes: When Pearce's ill-fated attempt at a technical trick called a cab double cork leaves him in a coma and at a rehab hospital for months in 2010, even as his friends and rivals go on to the Olympics.

And that's when "The Crash Reel" becomes the story of Kevin Pearce, recovering survivor of traumatic brain injury. We meet Pearce's doctors, who explain the permanent damage he's done to his memory and vision, and the risk of another blow to the head. We see Pearce's family in a new light, as caregivers and protectors. And we watch Pearce relearn how to walk, and talk, and - he hopes - snowboard again.

That arc, which takes the balance of the film, captures and condenses Pearce's arduous years-long therapy. And unlike Kevin's globe-traveling exploits as a pro snowboarder, it's the story that most TBI sufferers and sympathizers can relate to - which is why they're turning out in droves for the movie.

References and further information

This article was originally produced by Forbes.


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