When filmmaker Lucy Walker was debuting two movies at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, she heard the Park City locals talking about Kevin Pearce the Olympics-bound snowboarder who suffered a horrific head injury at the Park City Mountain Resort's halfpipe three weeks earlier.
"It was just a feeling in the air, with everybody just after the accident," Walker recalled. "They were really hurting."
Walker will return to Sundance this January, telling Pearce's story in the documentary "The Crash Reel," which has been selected as the festival's Salt Lake City Gala film, to screen Jan. 18.
"The Crash Reel" is one of 29 titles announced Monday, Dec. 3, in the Premieres and Documentary Premieres categories the films that typically feature bigger budgets and more recognizable stars. (Last week, Sundance officials announced titles in the festival's competition categories, which includes the directorial debut of Utahn Jerusha Hess's film "Austenland," adapted from South Jordan author Shannon Hale's novel. The festival also announced the titles in the Spotlight, Park City at Midnight and New Frontier sections.)
Choosing "The Crash Reel" for the Salt Lake City opening was easy, said festival director John Cooper. "These are people that the locals know quite well," Cooper said of Pearce, the snowboarding community, and the University of Utah doctors who treated Pearce after his Dec. 31, 2009, crash.
Walker's film "does celebrate [Pearce] as an incredible athlete. And it looks at the issues of safety in an important way, but it's not preachy at all," said Trevor Groth, the festival's programming director.
This year's Sundance's Premieres slate is notable for its profiles of fascinating people, from dramatic depictions of computer pioneer Steve Jobs and porn star Linda Lovelace to documentaries about attorney Anita Hill, NBA phenom Jeremy Lin and rock supergroup The Eagles.
Complex sexual relationships are a theme common to several of the Premieres films, Cooper said. The films explore issues of love and control, "not just for power, but the human nature for desire," Cooper said.
Among the Premieres titles Cooper cited for their sexual themes are: "Don Jon's Addiction," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Looper") as a lothario; "Two Mothers," in which Naomi Watts and Robin Wright portray friends who begin affairs with each other's sons; "Very Good Girls," starring Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen as teens seeking to lose their virginity; and two movies set in the porn industry "The Look of Love," a portrait of British porn publisher Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan), and "Lovelace," the dramatized biography of the "Deep Throat" star (played by Amanda Seyfried).
"The Crash Reel" is the fifth film Walker has made that has been accepted to Sundance. "I'm a Sundance junkie," she said. "There's nothing better than premiering your film at Sundance."
Walker said she was compelled to make "The Crash Reel" after meeting Pearce. She was mentoring at a retreat held by the shoe company Nike for its top-sponsored athletes, and Pearce was one of those attending.
"It was very moving to meet him, and realize he'd gone from being an Olympic hopeful on top of the world to being in a coma fighting for his life," Walker said. "All the light bulbs on top of my head lit up: 'Here it comes, your next film.' "
Walker learned to ski at age 18, but she said she's hopeless on a snowboard.
"Put me on a halfpipe and I would have a panic attack," she said. "That adds to my admiration to these incredible daredevils. The courage it takes to do these tricks on a hard surface, with all the variables you get with ice and edges and weather. I'm in awe of what they do. And I worry about them."
Part of "The Crash Reel" looks at another athlete, skier Sarah Burke, who died after an accident on the same Park City halfpipe on Jan. 19, 2012.
Burke's accident occurred just as the Sundance Film Festival was beginning, and Walker again had a film there the short "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom."
"I remember chatting to all the wait staff [in Park City] and all the locals, and they were all crying," Walker said. "They were just stunned and devastated."
The first Park City screening of "The Crash Reel," Walker said, will take place on Saturday, Jan. 19 the first anniversary of Burke's death. Walker said a tribute is being planned to honor Burke.
"She's such a hero to me, and to everyone in the community," Walker said.
Stars coming to Sundance
The following movie stars will be appearing in movies in the Premieres slate of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.