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Pro Climber Quinn Brett Was Left Paralyzed. New Film ‘An Accidental Life’ Depicts Her Journey Forward

“An Accidental Life,” streaming from the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival 2022 until February 26, tells the story of an accomplished big wall climber who was paralyzed by a 120-foot fall on the Nose, in Yosemite, in 2017.

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An Accidental Life

Director: Henna Taylor

In October 2017, accomplished big wall climber Quinn Brett took a life-changing fall while attempting to set a new speed record of the Nose. Brett broke four ribs, punctured a lung, bruised her liver, and fractured her 12th thoracic vertebrae. She was left paralyzed from the waist down.

An Accidental Life, which has been nominated for best Feature at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, starts after that: In this breathless transition in which Brett attempts to reconcile the loss of her legs and learn to move forward. It’s a deeply intimate, if at times provocative, film, a resounding expression of the human soul.

“I’m scared and embarrassed for people to see this part of me. It was the worst part of my life, and now you’re going to watch it,” said Brett in the film’s intro. 

(Photo: Henna Taylor)

Henna Taylor, director, began filming Brett in January 2018. The film focuses on Brett’s day-to-day life—her processing, her grief, her fears, and her hopes for the future. At times light, Brett is joyous after securing a job with the National Parks Service providing resources for adaptive visitors. She celebrates getting outside on an off-road hand cycle. She’s giddy after her first post-accident hookup.

Quinn Brett and Henna Taylor. (Photo: Tom Evans)

Most of the film, however, dwells on the gritty realities of spinal cord injury. Brett goes to physical therapy sessions where she relearns to swim and doctors stimulate blood flow to her legs. With loss of bladder and bowel function, Brett describes her struggles with going to the bathroom. In tears, she confesses her anger and deep sadness about not being able to climb.

“Choosing what to include and what to leave on the editing floor is always a delicate practice while making any documentary, especially when the film takes on a sensitive and/or intimate topic,” said Taylor in an interview with Climbing. “For us, it was a process not unlike sculpting a large and complex sculpture: bit by bit with the utmost of care and attention.”

Throughout it all, Brett is resilient, brave, and just plain tough. “Henna boldly captured an honest reflection of a terrible time,” Brett said to Climbing. “It’s wild to see the footage— now two to three years further along in my healing. Same pain, just how time simmers it.”

(Photo: Henna Taylor)

Brett wrote: “The film is intended to be a well-needed sigh for all of us. Inspiration, you say. I say a full breath reminding us of mindful human intentions and heart-filled capacity. I am not unique. I am just another human. I hope this deep view into my shattered spine, yet complete human spirit, inspires us all to the miracles we have yet to create, moreso furthering spinal cord research and shedding some light on this club with an open enrollment.”

An Accidental Life is available in the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival Virtual Cinema until February 26. 

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