IFC Films has acquired U.S. rights to “Olympic Dreams,” a romance shot on location at the 2018 Winter Olympics co-starring Nick Kroll and real-life Olympian Alexi Pappas. The film draws on Pappas’ experiences in the Rio Olympic Games of 2016, and she shares a writing credit on the project with director Jeremy Teicher.
The couple previously co-directed the 2016 drama “Tracktown,” which starred Pappas as long-distance runner who attempts to take a break in the midst of stressful training sessions. That movie caught the attention of International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who watched it on a plane and selected Pappas as one of four athletes chosen to participate in last year’s artists-in-residence program.
“Olympic Dreams” was initially conceived as a series of narrative short films, which were posted to the Olympic Channel, but Pappas and Teicher convinced the Olympics to allow them to cut a feature-length story out of the footage. “They pictured a feature film as a huge crew and millions of dollars, so we agreed that we’d make short films,” Teicher said in an interview with IndieWire. “That was the project. But we said we’d shoot enough for a feature if there was time. So we shot a feature.” The movie premiered at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, where it was listed in IndieWire’s annual “Memo to Distributors” feature, and will make its New York premiere at BAMcinemaFest on Wednesday.
“Olympic Dreams” finds Pappas playing Penelope, a cross-country skier who spends the bulk of her time at the Olympics wandering around in a lonely daze. Eventually, she meets Ezra (Kroll), a volunteer dentist escaping a troubled relationship back home, and the pair form a romantic bond as they roam around the Olympic Village and talk about life.
The chatty, wistful story suggests Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool” by way of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, but it’s also a unique window into the personal experiences of an athlete on the ground in the midst of the crowded Olympic scene. “There’s a reason this has never been done before, and it’s that nobody’s ever had the access to the Olympics we had,” Teicher said.
The film was shot with a crew of three, with Teicher juggling triple duties as director, cinematographer, and sound guy while following his stars around. Pappas recruited other real-life athletes for supporting roles, in many cases using their familiarity with Kroll’s other work to lure them in. “We knew that all the chaos and unpredictability about the Olympics was also an opportunity,” Teicher said. “So to go there with a really tight script and vision would’ve hamstrung us because we wouldn’t have been able to embrace what we found there. We knew the beats of the story.”
Teicher said the IFC deal arrived at the end of a long negotiation with the Olympics over the rights to the footage. “The Olympics has a reputation of being impenetrable, but they haven’t had the infrastructure to connect with artists,” he said. “Now, they’re creating it. There was no legal framework for a narrative feature film to get Olympic licensing, but we worked through that with them. It was a win-win. Alexi’s experiences are synonymous with the goals of the Olympics, which is to invite people into the Olympic movement.”
IFC Films will open “Olympic Dreams” in the first quarter of 2020.