Lucy Walker Talks Extreme Sports
By Katie Lucas
When did you first meet Kevin Pearce and what were your initial impressions of him?
I first met him the summer after his accident. I wasn?t 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.?
What about Kevin?s story appealed to you?
His story is so extreme; it dramatizes how high the stakes are. And his passion for the sport is incredible given what he?s been through. There?s something very intense about that. He?s just a very charming and humble young man, even when his eyes were looking in different directions and he kept reintroducing himself because he couldn?t remember meeting me.
When you started production, where was Kevin in the recovery process?
I started work immediately after meeting Kevin in 2010, so it?s been a long journey. Not as long as the journey he?s been on, but long nonetheless.
Your team collected a tremendous amount of secondhand footage of Kevin?s life before the accident. Did any specific clip stand out to you?
I guess the most shocking piece of footage is the crash itself. It?s very eerie and strange that somebody just happened to catch this accident. It?s perfectly in the middle of the frame and you can see the whole thing. You can see Kevin?s life flipped on its head quite literally in that moment. I don?t feel happy about it because it?s such a grotesque, sad piece. That?s what the film?s about though, so in terms of the storytelling, it?s remarkable that we have that footage.
What surprised you about the world of extreme sports?
Some of the surprises are more mundane; things like helmets are not mandatory and insurance is not common. It?s 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 don?t 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. That?s separate from the film. The film is a narrative story. It?s almost a better kind of a fiction film because you get the whole story, but it?s real. You see Kevin?s transformation and what he and his family go through. You get front-row seats on this unbelievable ride of a lifetime. Ultimately, it?s very uplifting; it rescues victory from the jaws of defeat every time. But there is great sadness and many people weren?t as lucky as Kevin. Their stories were very much in my thoughts as well.
The film points out that the sport is evolving quicker than the conversation about safety. What?s propelling this momentum?
It?s 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 it?s massively marketed. These kids are marketed to for their passion for the sport and the money spent by these companies is off the charts.
It?s so thrilling to watch the sport evolve before our very eyes. A generation ago no one was even doing this, and now it?s 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 there?s real pain and changed lives behind these crashes.
There?s a disconnect for the audience between the inherent risks and what they?re watching.
Do you think professional extreme sports athletes experience the same dissonance?
I think people are aware it?s a possibility, but they?re athletes and they?re going for it, as they should be. I think the question isn?t ?should they be going for it?? it?s ?how should the sport be configured?? and ?is the conversation about safety keeping up with the evolution??
What do you hope that viewers take away from this film?
It?s a story. I?m 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 that?s worth an hour and a half of their time.
Do you have a favorite scene or moment?
It?s too hard to pick. I might point to the ending. I think that?s a great triumph for documentary because I couldn?t 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.