Testing the limits


I recently had the chance to watch "The Crash Reel" during the Princeton Environmental Film Festival. One of 15 films short-listed for this year's Academy Award for Best Documentary, it's the visually and emotionally stunning story of Kevin Pearce, a snowboarder who suffers a traumatic brain injury during a training session for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The film captures the risks people are willing to take to accomplish their dreams of becoming the best.

"The Crash Reel" was moving in many ways beyond the gravity-defying tricks that trademark the sport of snowboarding. The support of Kevin's family in helping him recover was selfless, and the anxiety during his quest to return to the half-pipe was palpable. As a viewer, I couldn't decide who to root for: the star athlete brave and stubborn enough to risk his life again for his passion, or the devoted family who just couldn't bear the toll of another crash. Watching the film, I was reminded of a few other great documentaries I've seen that feature people pushing their talents to the limit for success or fame:

"Man on Wire," winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, recounts the suspense of Philippe Petit's controversial 1974 high-walk across the World Trade Center towers. With rare footage, interviews, photographs and simulations of the plan to break into the towers, the viewing experience is eerie, fascinating and nostalgic all at once.

In a different vein, "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" documents the efforts of novice Steve Wiebe's to overthrow the reigning champion of the arcade game Donkey Kong, legendary Billy Mitchell, who has held the record for highest score for over 20 years. While Mitchell lives a rock-star life, where he is the center of attention at all times, viewers see the struggle of Wiebe to maintain a family life while pushing his mental and physical abilities to the limits in his attempts to break the record.

Finally, the 2011 film "First Position" follows six ballet dancers preparing for the annual Youth American Grand Prix, a dance competition where the winners are selected for scholarships or invitations to prestigious ballet companies and schools. We see these young talents endure devastating injuries, physical exhaustion and mental pressures all in an obsessive, albeit inspirational, pursuit of their dreams.

With the Winter Olympics underway in Sochi, you can still witness in real-time those who are willing to test the limits in magnificent ways. This June, New Jersey will host the Special Olympics 2014 USA Games, so you can be front and center for the thrill of the victories and the agony of the defeats. Interested in viewing more outstanding documentaries? Several of our Princeton Environmental Film Festival selections are available on DVD in our collection.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user gerardagudo.) 


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