Shane McConkey movie by Red Bull, Matchstick premeires at Tribeca Fest Read more: Shane McConkey movie by Red Bull, Matchstick premeires at Tribeca Fest
The news four years ago Tuesday wrenched a global sob from the action sports community.
Shane McConkey — the always laughing funnyman who skied the best and flew the highest — was gone. Tangled skis during a ski BASE jump in northern Italy had robbed the world of its most influential action sports athlete, a man beloved by all who ever saw his freckled grin.
Steve Winter, the Crested Butte filmmaker who captured McConkey’s audacious, spectacular arc for 15 years, was there that day, his eye to the camera as his parachuted friend skied off a 2,000-foot cliff.
For the last three years, Winter and longtime movie-making partner Murray Wais channeled their grief into the ultimate tribute to a fallen hero. The documentary “McConkey,” made with Red Bull Media House, premieres next month at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
”Shane was so much more than just a skier. He’s a legend,” Winter said. “This movie isn’t so much an action sports movie as it is a documentary about his life, and the legacy he leaves behind, and the whole concept of living your life to the fullest. Shane really planted that seed in everybody he met, everyone who ever saw him on film, and it’s contagious.”
Home videos included
Winter and Wais have miles of film and rooms of hard drives filled with McConkey’s outrageous exploits. There’s the fiery James Bond ski scene. A ridiculous plummet-dance down vertical ice. A floating descent of a remote peak on water skis, a pivotal moment that proved his then-revolutionary but now ubiquitous powder ski design. And his most intrepid stunts as one of the world’s first ski BASE jumpers, flying off dead-end lines on previously unskiable peaks, releasing his skis and flying, arms wide like a real-life Superman in a limb-webbed flying suit.
But those jaw-dropping scenes are only a small part of the movie.
”Everyone’s already seen that stuff,” Winter said.
Instead, Winter and Wais poured over McConkey’s collection of home videos. Clips he made as a goofball freshman on the University of Colorado ski team in the early 1990s. Videos that detail his push to forge a new school of skiing that eschewed the strictures of racing. His hilariously self-deprecating skits and the general silliness that harvested countless laughs in his 39 years. His life at home with his wife and young daughter.
”People will get to know Shane inside and out. You’ll see that, yes, he took risks but he was a calculated risk taker. He was a family man. He was an uber-talented athlete,” said Winter, who first met and filmed McConkey in 1995. “You’ll see that he was a smart guy, but he wasn’t that into school. He struggled through school and through ski racing on the path society wanted him to follow. Then you can see him steer away from that and do what he wanted to do, and how that led him to his ultimate success. This is more about his character than it is about him being such a great athlete.”
A film not just for his fans
Red Bull, which signed McConkey as its first North American athlete long before the energy drink launched a global empire, and Winter and Wais are donating all the profits from “McConkey” to a trust for the athlete’s wife, Sherry, and now 7-year-old daughter, Ayla.
That means Matchstick for the first time in 15 years won’t release an annual ski flick this winter, and founders Winter and Wais are foregoing income.
”The reward of helping Sherry and just doing this project was way more important than the cash we could have made off of it,” Winter said.
Winter and Wais enlisted veteran documentary maker David Zieff to the three-year process of making “McConkey.” Winter hailed Zieff’s expert hand at editing, especially when it came trimming video treasures down to 90 minutes.
”It could have been a five-hour movie and be the most entertaining, awesome movie we have ever produced for sure,” Winter said.
But this isn’t a movie made for Matchstick’s traditional viewers. “McConkey” is targeting a broader audience, maybe the people who didn’t know McConkey’s vibrant ways but should.
”Having David being the editor has been, I would say, key in a big, big way,” Winter said. “He brought that mainstream outsiders look at the project that we might have overlooked.”
”McConkey” includes commentary from the biggest talents in action sports, from Travis Pastrana to Tony Hawk. Those guys weren’t necessarily in the ski business, but they shared much in common with McConkey as swashbuckling trail blazers.
Still, Winter doesn’t expect his movie to sway critics who barely waited a day after his death before questioning McConkey for taking huge risks with a wife and 3-year-old back home.
”No one who comes in thinking Shane was an idiot about doing what he did with a family will leave the movie thinking any differently,” Winter said. “That’s great. People are entitled to their opinion and they choose to live the way they want to live, just like Shane chose the way he wanted to live. Yes, he took chances. But he lived 10 times the life that most of us live. I hope this movie is just a reaffirmation of what he was doing when he was alive, inspiring all of us to live deeper.”