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‘Icarus:’ How a Doping Exposé Uncovered an International Conspiracy

Watch video from the Q&A from the International Documentary Association's 2017 Documentary Screening on Sept. 18.

Bryan Fogel’s original goal for his first documentary, “Icarus,” was to expose a doping epidemic in professional sports. The amateur cyclist planned to use himself as a guinea pig to pass doping controls, and in the process reveal the deep flaws of current anti-doping systems.

“I approached it… that I was setting out on an investigative journey and was taking risks to explore what I saw as a broken system,” Fogel told the audience after a screening at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series in Los Angeles. “I didn’t set out with an idea of, ‘Oh, I’m cheating or doing something wrong,’ it was more like, ‘Hey, what is wrong with this system that is being sold to planet Earth as working but clearly it doesn’t?'”

He planned on outing himself, so he never really viewed it as cheating.

“I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on anybody other than to show the bigger picture of what is going on inside the world of professional sports,” he said. “So in that regard, I didn’t really have that kind of mindset, because there was no prize that was at stake. I didn’t really view myself as really cheating anyone. I was actually viewing myself as somebody who was out there to show the problems in a bigger system.”

But that’s almost beside the point, because what Fogel captured turned out to be a gigantic conspiracy involving Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Russia’s Anti-Doping Centre, the Russian Olympic team, and Vladimir Putin.

Fogel originally recruited Rodchenkov to advise him while he underwent his doping regime, but wound up helping the scientist escape Russia and expose a decades-long plot by the Russians to cheat the Olympic Games.

“As the story started out, I was the subject and he was my advisor,” Fogel said. But the tables suddenly turned. “Now I’m his advisor and he’s suddenly he subject, and not only that, his life was in my hands.”

While ostensibly about the sporting world, the information revealed in the documentary has much larger implications.

“It was an important story. It was a story the world needed to know,” he said. “This affected the last 40 years of sport history, thousands and thousands of medals that were stolen from not only the American athletes but athletes all over the world, but also a keyhole into what Russia is capable of doing. Where you go, ‘Hey, if they did this, is there any doubt to their capability in our election? Is there any doubt to what they are capable of in other geopolitical realms?'”

That’s why, despite the very real threat to Rodchenkov’s life and even Fogel’s life, he felt “Icarus” was vital to put out in the world.

“To me that story was so important that I felt that I had an obligation to do that,” he said. “Yeah, they could take my life, but I have an amazing legacy and I did something amazing for this world.”

“Icarus” is available to stream on Netflix.

The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

Watch clips from the Q&A below:

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