It wasn't long after professional skier, BASE jumper and all around daredevil, Shane McConkey died in an accident in 2009 that his best friend started thinking about telling the story of his extraordinary life.
Nearly four years later,
McConkey, a documentary film produced by Red Bull Media House and Matchstick Productions that chronicles his adventures, is premiering around North America.
"It was pretty clear it had to happen, just days after Shane died," says co-director Scott Gaffney, one of McConkey's closest friends. "There was such a wealth of material. He led such an inspirational and amazing life. It was a story waiting to be told."
Gaffney began working on the feature-length film — which officially premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York earlier this year — by mining decades of both his and McConkey's own footage, as well as conducting just over 30 interviews with people close to McConkey, professionally and personally.
"He was my best friend," Gaffney says. "The hardest thing was going through his personal footage and a lot of it I had shot over the years. Behind-the-scenes stuff I hadn't looked at in 15 years. Just goofy stuff I hadn't seen since I shot it."
The goal of the documentary was to chronicle McConkey's life from the time Gaffney met him after college through his career until his untimely death during a ski accident in Italy while performing a signature stunt that involved a parachute. McConkey was unable to get his skis off before he could open the chute and fell to his death at the age of 39.
During his career — in which he coined the term "freeskiing" — he was featured in 26 ski films, became an innovative BASE jumper sponsored by Red Bull and was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
"We accomplished what we were going for," Gaffney says. "We wanted to show a passionate individual who was kind of a geek in his younger years, found himself and turned himself into an amazing individual. What we really found was how little time we had in less than two hours to tell the story we wanted to tell. It could've been way longer... but we wanted to keep it exciting and keep it moving along."
The trailer for the film, which will screen in Whistler on Oct. 30 at Millennium Place, is full of stunning images of the mountain ranges McConkey hurled himself off of with skis and parachutes, but, Gaffney says, the film is more documentary than ski porn. In that way, it's accessible to a wide audience.
"I knew it would be something skiers would appreciate because so many loved Shane, but he had a message," Gaffney says. "We didn't want to regurgitate the same thing. We wanted to affect people in a deeper way. We had to make it a mainstream-type movie and show the heart behind him and the family side of him."
The film has been a hit so far during its tour, especially in Squaw Valley, Calf., where McConkey called home. (Though he was born in Vancouver, he held dual citizenship.) "Our tour stops have been great," Gaffney says. "There were 4,500 people in Squaw Valley."
McConkey's wife and daughter have also screened the film and offered their stamp of approval, something that was important to Gaffney. "Sherry, his wife, is extremely proud of it," he says. "That's the number one goal right there. We weren't making something specifically for her and her daughter, but we wanted something she could cherish."
Knowing McConkey so well, Gaffney had an idea of what his friend would think of the film and kept that in mind while piecing the footage together. "I think he'd be proud of it," he says. "It sounds cliché, but there were a lot of times I was fighting for a certain point I wanted to keep and I would say, 'Shane would love that.' It's cliché to say he'd want it that way."
To that end, Gaffney just wanted to pass along his friend's adventurous spirit, which was inspirational to so many during his short life. "That's really a large part of it," he says. "He did live (to the fullest). He didn't preach it, but he showed it. It's a message that transcends skiing. It goes across all boarders to all different sports. Even people who aren't active can come away with a message that I should make every day count. His life was fulfilling. If they can walk away and say, 'I'm going to make more of my day' then we've succeeded."