While Shane McConkey may not quite be a household name, for fans of action sports, the name McConkey will forever be synonymous with extreme. From helping to launch the freeskiing movement to pioneering ski BASE jumping (that's skiing off a cliff and parachuting down), McConkey pushed the limits of human athleticism to his very last breath. While the tragedy that unfolded on an Italian mountain in 2009 may have been the inevitable conclusion for a man who lived to cheat death, it's the story of his life that keeps the viewer enthralled throughout the film that bears his name. McConkey is a fascinating look at a way of life that so many only dream of -- and a beautiful portrait of one totally radical man.
A co-production between ski video pioneers Matchstick Productions and Red Bull Media House, Rob Bruce, Scott Gaffney, Murray Wais, Steve Winter, and David Zieff are all credited as directors of the documentary (any combination of the five share producer, writer, editor, and cinematographer credit as well). This may be the rare case when so many cooks in the kitchen make the meal all the more delicious. Never does the vision feel fragmented and the mostly linear timeline moves smoothly between the copious footage that captured McConkey's life and insightful interviews with the personalities with whom he shared it.
The centerpiece of these interviews is Shane's wife Sherry. Easily the most understanding woman on Earth, Sherry states she would never dream of stopping Shame from doing what he loved. It's with heavy hearts that we listen as she recounts some of the scary moments of being married to a daredevil, but these are just a footnote to the tales of Shane as a tender father by which she remembers him. It's this remarkable understanding and complete forgiveness that ignites compassion in the audience and creates a kind of connection that few documentaries are able to kindle. Her story is one of total love.
But it isn't all wet eyes and sniffles, sports fans. McConkey is just as packed with world class powder skiing, unbelievable BASE jumping, and all the death-defying footage that made McConkey a mainstay of the action sports video industry that arose over the past two decades. The film is even a history lesson on the birth of extreme skiing and a particularly interesting look at the role McConkey played in the evolution of powder ski technology (-- oh, and don't worry, Saucer Boy makes an appearance as well).
What is perhaps most remarkable about McConkey is how much potential it has to appeal past the extreme sports set. The film is about that one-in-a-million drive that pushes some people beyond the boundaries of what anyone had previously dreamt possible. Few films so succeed in showing us what makes someone like that tick. To do so in this kind of touching and personal way is a real gift. Get your skis waxed up, draw that special someone just a little bit closer, and settle in for a passionate and poignant tale of a true legend.