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Interview with Lucy Walker

The Crash Reel

HBO

When did you first meet Kevin Pearce and what were your initial impressions of him?

LUCY WALKER

I first met him the summer after his accident. I wasnt familiar with brain injury, so I was very shocked at the shape he was in. Despite his injury, he had real superstar charisma and I immediately thought: Gosh, this would make an amazing film.

HBO

What about Kevins story appealed to you?

LUCY WALKER

His story is so extreme; it dramatizes how high the stakes are. And his passion for the sport is incredible given what hes been through. Theres something very intense about that. Hes just a very charming and humble young man, even when his eyes were looking in different directions and he kept reintroducing himself because he couldnt remember meeting me.

HBO

When you started production, where was Kevin in the recovery process?

LUCY WALKER

I started work immediately after meeting Kevin in 2010, so its been a long journey. Not as long as the journey hes been on, but long nonetheless.

HBO

Your team collected a tremendous amount of secondhand footage of Kevins life before the accident. Did any specific clip stand out to you?

LUCY WALKER

I guess the most shocking piece of footage is the crash itself. Its very eerie and strange that somebody just happened to catch this accident. Its perfectly in the middle of the frame and you can see the whole thing. You can see Kevins life flipped on its head quite literally in that moment. I dont feel happy about it because its such a grotesque, sad piece. Thats what the films about though, so in terms of the storytelling, its remarkable that we have that footage.

HBO

What surprised you about the world of extreme sports?

LUCY WALKER

Some of the surprises are more mundane; things like helmets are not mandatory and insurance is not common. Its surprising how many injuries do happen and yet the passion for the sport is not dented.

I was shocked by how little people knew about concussions. Even professional athletes dont know what to do when you hit your head. We have launched this #LoveYourBrain campaign, which works really hard to address some of the aspects we have been surprised by. Thats separate from the film. The film is a narrative story. Its almost a better kind of a fiction film because you get the whole story, but its real. You see Kevins transformation and what he and his family go through. You get front-row seats on this unbelievable ride of a lifetime. Ultimately, its very uplifting; it rescues victory from the jaws of defeat every time. But there is great sadness and many people werent as lucky as Kevin. Their stories were very much in my thoughts as well.

"I hope people come away from it thinking documentaries can be fabulously watchable and give lots of food for thought in a fabulously cinematic way."

HBO

The film points out that the sport is evolving quicker than the conversation about safety. Whats propelling this momentum?

LUCY WALKER

Its a huge business. A lot of big corporations make a lot of money off of these sports, sponsors and ratings. This stuff is massively popular to watch, and so its massively marketed. These kids are marketed to for their passion for the sport and the money spent by these companies is off the charts.

Its so thrilling to watch the sport evolve before our very eyes. A generation ago no one was even doing this, and now its in the Olympics. These tricks are incredible to watch. It certainly beats other sports in terms of thrills, but hand in hand with that are the spills, which are very much worth thinking about too. This film raises that question for the first time. There are so many glamourized, slick films or crash reels, where people edit the crashes together, and it all looks like a really great, fun, pain-free visual feast. But theres real pain and changed lives behind these crashes.

HBO

Theres a disconnect for the audience between the inherent risks and what theyre watching.

LUCY WALKER

Exactly.

HBO

Do you think professional extreme sports athletes experience the same dissonance?

LUCY WALKER

I think people are aware its a possibility, but theyre athletes and theyre going for it, as they should be. I think the question isnt should they be going for it? its how should the sport be configured? and is the conversation about safety keeping up with the evolution?

HBO

What do you hope that viewers take away from this film?

LUCY WALKER

Its a story. Im not an advocate. This is not journalism with a camera. I hope people come away from it thinking documentaries can be fabulously watchable and give lots of food for thought in a fabulously cinematic way thats worth an hour and a half of their time.

HBO

Do you have a favorite scene or moment?

LUCY WALKER

Its too hard to pick. I might point to the ending. I think thats a great triumph for documentary because I couldnt believe how well-scripted it was, in a funny way. This ending tied up things with Kevin and his brother David struggling to accept their disabilities and challenging each other to accept their disabilities. I was really moved by that and felt very grateful to have been there when that happened.

The Crash Reel

Docs Summer Series 2013