Snowboarder Kevin Pearce stars in film at Sundance

Friday - 1/18/2013, 8:05am EST

By PAT GRAHAM
AP Sports Writer

(AP) - The camera zoomed out as snowboarder Kevin Pearce sank deeper into the leather rocking chair, his voice quivering with every word he whispered to his therapist.

Just when Pearce thought he was making progress from a traumatic brain injury he suffered during a frightful fall in the halfpipe three years ago, more bad news seemed to follow.

On this day, he found out he needed additional eye surgeries to correct his double vision. Downcast and dejected, he told his therapist, "It just feels like it's never ending. Will it never end?"

The camera closed in tight on his brother, Adam, who was sitting on the couch: A tear rolled down Adam's cheek as he listened to the sorrow of his younger sibling.

That's just one of the touching scenes in the film "The Crash Reel," a documentary about Kevin Pearce's return from his life-altering accident set to premiere on Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Pearce has yet to see the nearly two-hour movie directed by British filmmaker Lucy Walker. He's heard through the grapevine the film is "tripping" and "rad" and "insane." But he wanted to hold off until he was with his family and a close-knit group of pro snowboarders who call themselves the "Frends" (there's no `I' in friendship). They all will be on hand for the debut.

"This film is going to be unreal," Pearce said in an interview from his home in Carlsbad, Calif., shortly before traveling to Park City, Utah, for the festival. "I'm so psyched."

The first part of the movie chronicles the rise of Pearce, the up-and-coming snowboarder expected to give Shaun White his biggest challenge at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But on Dec. 31, 2009 _ just 49 days before the Olympics _ Pearce miscalculated a tricky maneuver during a training run in Park City and landed directly on his face.

From there, the film focuses his recovery, with his family playing an integral role in his rehabilitation at Craig Hospital, a Denver facility that specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.

And finally, it centers on Pearce trying to make some sort of peace with his new life.

"What's so shocking about this material is to realize that in a split second life can change on a dime," said Walker, who had help financing the picture with assistance from HBO Documentary Films. "He didn't put his hand out _ that movement would've changed everything in his life. You can see that moment, but you can't take it back. I get very moved around that."

Walker became acquainted with Pearce's story soon after it happened. She was in Park City and noticed the town was covered in red "I ride with Kevin" stickers. They later met at a Nike function and started a conversation.

"My first thought was, `What an amazing young man. What an incredible journey he's been on,'" Walker said. "My second thought was, `Someone should make a film' and my third thought was, `I'd love for it to be me.'"

And so it would be, because from the moment Pearce met Walker, he felt a connection.

Walker has an extensive background in documentary films, telling stories ranging from Amish youths deciding if they should remain in or leave their community ("Devil's Playground") to blind Tibetan students climbing Everest ("Blindsight").

She certainly had enough footage for this project, given the popularity of Pearce. Walker tracked down tape of contests and training runs from all over the world.

"The action snowboarding community is so eye-popping and has this incredible wealth of material," she said. "It's incredibly cinematic."

Not only that, but she had a dashing young actor with wavy, brown hair and black-rimmed glasses for the leading role.

Kevin Pearce, the movie star. It has a nice ring.

Although, he'd rather be Kevin Pearce, the snowboarding star. But those days are over as he comes to realize in the film. He only reaches that point with the help of his family, who even have a fireside chat to determine how best to intervene and tell him he's not ready _ nor will he ever be ready _ to drop back into the halfpipe.

He thinks he is, though, returning to the slopes last year with a run at Breckenridge, Colo., with his "Frends" entourage.

Later, he competed in a banked slalom event _ on a slope, not in a halfpipe _ without his family's knowledge. He meandered through the tricky course and said after finishing, "My snowboarding is bad right now. I was bummed out. I'm not good enough and not in the place I need to be to do really well."