Seven Sunny Days
This review was written in 2012, 5 years after Seven Sunny Days was released, so I have the benefit of the perspective that the passage of time provides. 7SD is one of the better Matchstick ski films as it displays their winning formula to full advantage: a great crew of fearless skiers constantly pushing what’s possible in the sport, spectacular big mountain helicopter shots and a good smooth pacing that make the movie flow. They’ve also thrown in a few wild cards like a record-breaking snowmobile jump and footage of the Norwegian pioneer/maniacs in their wing- suits as they buzz massive cliff faces. Such sequences don’t detract from the vibe of the project and any sports action movie fan will lap them up. But, rather than review 7SD from a traditional point of view, the focus here is going to be on a few, almost “classic” sequences that have come to possess special relevance given the occurrence of certain events since the film was released.
1. The first modern helmet-cam POV sequence: Mike Douglas’ sequence is shot almost entirely from a helmet-cam and so has that delicious POV feeling that induces dizziness as he rips down spines. While helmet-cam shots are nothing new (remember the massive thing that Glen Plake had taped to the side of his head in 1988’s The Blizzard of Aahhhs?) this sequence is almost all helmet-cam, not just a few snippets. And it’s that stomach-lifting feeling that makes this special – when you can take the viewer on the ride and make him or her feel even a little of what that descent was like, well, then you’ve got your modern POV sequence. It’s about getting in on the real feeling, not just passively watching it. This sequence pre-figures the advent of Go-Pro and Contour cameras which, in their ubiquity, have flooded the web with (sometimes awesome) POV footage of steep and gnarly lines.
2. The wing-suit sequence with the Norwegian pros is a cool addition to a ski film. Two things are going on here: The Norwegians are doing things in wing-suits that seem straight out of science fiction movies, but there are no jet-packs here. Wing-suits are the only thing used. It has to be seen to be believed. The second thing going on is in legendary skier Shane McConkey’s mind. He adds the voice-over to the sequence. He’s in Norway to learn how to use a wing-suit because he’s working on combining it with cliff hucking on skis. That’s right: ski down a line, off the cliff, kick off your skis and fly away. But, with the passage of time, re-seeing this part of 7SD has a dark dimension given what happened to McConkey two years later. Attempting the exact same combination (something he had done successfully in the past) his skis did not come off soon enough and the jump turned into a fatality. Dark underscore, yes, but its initial significance of boundary pushing is the real lesson here. Adapt, improvise and overcome. It’s an attitude that’s missing in the American spirit these days – push the frontiers and push yourself. While I hope that attitude has not disappeared, it certainly seems like it’s been forgotten by the general powers that be today. Accident aside, McConkey contribution to the sport stands as an example of how limits can be pushed outward and of what we can do if we resurrect that spirit again.
3. And then there’s Sarah Burke. Sarah’s sequence in 7SD has what everyone loved about her. The girl-next-door who could rip 50 degree mountain faces. The blonde with the magazine good looks who could throw 720s in the pipe. The charming, self-deprecating Canadian world-class athlete who could melt snow and every heart around her with her smile. Sarah’s accidental death this year at age 29 while training in Utah underscores the danger of the sport so many of us love. Burke had reached a level in her skiing ability that so few achieve and sequences like this serve as a reminder of that professional greatness.
4. CR Johnson: Next Steps – While he expressed self-doubt in the movie Believe (Part 2 of CP’s Tanner Hall Trilogy) after which he left the project to regroup, it was with Matchstick that CR Johnson decided to make his next move. In 7SD Johnson talks about getting back into the mental and physical framework needed to excel in freeskiing having been paralyzed the year before in a devastating skiing accident. Johnson’s skiing, while tentative at times as he regains his form, still embodies more courage than most mortals will ever know (not including fighter pilots and astronauts). And this is the importance of this sequence – never giving up. You can see his game starting to come alive again as he bends his way through some tricky tree lines and in the Bralorne footage that ends the film. Tragically, it would be just over two years after the release of 7SD that another skiing accident would occur and this time Johnson would not survive.
The skiing in 7SD makes it a worthy movie in any collection. The footage and editing are something Matchstick can be proud of. But it’s been the passage of time and the fateful confluence of events give 7SD an extra aura. By Mark “The Attorney General” Quail