Unlike most ski film premieres, the ski industry made up only one row of the theater at Loews Village 7 when “McConkey” premiered Sunday afternoon at New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival. But listening to the crowd’s frequent laughs, gasps of awe and enthusiastic applause, we could have been in any ski town theater.
Produced by Matchstick Productions and Red Bull Media House, McConkey documents the life and tragic death of Shane McConkey, the most charismatic, revolutionary and influential skier of our time. The two-and-a-half-year project beautifully weaves MSP’s 17 years of McConkey clips and Shane’s 20 years of personal footage—most of it never before seen—to tell a comprehensive story of one of the most interesting lives lived.
It’s a linear look at Shane’s life, from his first runs at Squaw, to ski racing at Burke Mountain Academy to flunking out of the University of Colorado to winning the Pro Mogul Tour. We get to know Shane, a somewhat troubled teen whose maturity level never really graduates from eighth grade—naked skiing is a common theme. We meet Shane’s parents. His father, pro skier Jim McConkey, is absent most of his childhood, which may have deeply affected Shane. We learn the camera’s significance in Shane’s life and his desire to document everything from backflips into the lake to late-night reflections on life.
As the years roll on, Shane hits his stride and we witness an evolution from freeskier to film star, to ski inventor, to BASE jumper to ski BASE jumper. We watch Shane fall in love with the beautiful and courageous Sherry, get married on the beach in Thailand and become a father to a little girl named Ayla. Sherry, who in the early stages of the relationship eagerly supports Shane’s daily adrenaline fueled outings, naturally begins to worry about Shane’s dangerous endeavors. But she obviously loves Shane for exactly the man he is and compares trying to stifle his passions to caging an eagle.
It’s a documentary rooted in action. Shane fans will appreciate everything from his first backflip off the Palisades to his revolutionary Alaskan descent on water skis. The BASE jumping, wingsuit flying and ski BASE jumping footage from the world’s most scenic locations is absolutely mind blowing.
Directors Steve Winter, Murray Wais, Scott Gaffney, David Zieff, and Rob Bruce hosted a Q&A with the audience after the screening. Shane’s close friend and ski BASE partner JT Holmes (who was with Shane when he died) answered an audience member’s: “do-you-think-it-was-worth-it” question. Holmes said absolutely not, stressing that Sherry and Ayla were the most important things in Shane’s life.
“Human beings have certain things in them that are innate,” continued Holmes. “Adventure, exploration, pushing what’s possible for humans… that was innate in Shane and couldn’t be changed.”
Directory Murray Wais of Matchstick Productions said he hoped audiences feel a sense of joy and life and celebration from the film. “At the end of the day, we should all evaluate our life and how we want to live it,” he said.
Someone asked if Shane was the same off camera and Gaffney affirmed. “What everyone saw on film—the goofball he was—was one fraction of the guy Shane was in real life,” he said. “I spent so much time going through the footage, I felt like I was hanging out with Shane. I’d go to bed feeling like I had just been hanging out with my best friend three years after he died.”
The final comment came from an older woman with a thick New York accent: “Thank you so much for making such a beautiful film,” she said. “A film that shows a life without passion for something, really isn’t a life.”
*MSP shared images from the premiere on its site: View the photos now.