A series of New York Times interviews introduced the protagonist of Icarus—the whistleblower at the center of the film who exposed widespread doping of Russian athletes—even before the film’s celebrated debut at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
While documentarians typically find inspiration in newspaper accounts, Icarus turned that convention on its head. Filmmaker Bryan Fogel and producer Dan Cogan sought in advance journalistic coverage to protect their film subject, Grigory Rodchenkov. They turned to New York Times reporter Rebecca Ruiz, who had been in touch with Rodchenkov before he came to the United States, and offered exclusive access to a prized source under their protection. Their goal—one not shared by Ruiz, as a journalist: to shield their subject from potential prosecution, or even assassination, as Rodchenkov was not only exposing the scandal: his own lab had supplied the ‘cocktails’ that enabled Russians to dope their athletes at the Sochi Olympics, and beyond.
Fogel, an amateur cyclist, had been so fascinated by the question of pharmaceutical enhancement in sports, that at first he planned a doping regimen for himself to see if it could go undetected. He would film the results of this experiment in a satirical style akin to Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, thus calling attention to the failures of the system in place to test athletes. In this midst of this, an encounter with Rodchenkov led to staggering revelations of corruption, all the way up to Putin.
Ruiz’s articles in the New York Times provided the legal apparatus for Rodchenkov’s protection, prompting an investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency that documented collusion by the Russian government. The story reached the vast reading public for daily news, while Icarus found an enraptured audience during its top-tier festival and theatrical run and subsequent Netflix release. This panel will examine the distinct context, tensions, audiences and opportunities of each medium working in tandem on the same story.
Session Category : 2017