For Icarus director Bryan Fogel, winning the Oscar for Best Documentary in March by no means marked the end of his awards season run. Six months after he earned the statuette for his film that exposed Russia’s vast athletics doping program, he finds himself in the running for multiple Emmy Awards.
To borrow a sports term, Icarus scored a hat trick, with nominations in three documentary/nonfiction categories—Outstanding Special, Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing.
“It’s exciting, and I’m very honored,” Fogel tells Deadline. “It’s been a wonderful ride with this film, and so to be able to go from the Oscars, and then being recognized by the Television Academy, is a very wonderful thing. Whatever the outcome, I’m grateful.”
Fogel dedicated his Oscar victory to the hero of Icarus, Grigory Rodchenkov, the chemist who once ran Moscow’s anti-doping lab. In the film, Rodchenkov revealed how he implemented an elaborate scheme allowing Russian athletes to dope throughout the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, all while avoiding detection. He told Fogel the order to cheat originated at the very top.
“The mandate [came] from Putin, according to Grigory…to win at all costs, meaning whatever you’ve got to do, win,” Fogel stated. “They came out on top of the medal count. They also won the most Gold Medals of any country—13. And this was an astonishing success for Putin and for Russia, to have such a fantastic performance at their own Olympics.”
The continued attention on Icarus no doubt irks the Kremlin. Shortly after the Oscars, Russia’s Minister of Sport, Pavel Kolobkov, reportedly dismissed the film as, in effect, fake news.
“The film Icarus was given an Oscar in the wrong category,” Kolobkov proclaimed, according to The Moscow Times. “It’s a good fantasy film and maybe deserves an award, but not as a documentary.”
Fogel shrugs off the Russian rebuff.
“I think that’s to be expected. I mean, they don’t take any [responsibility], and maintain deniability when it comes to all frauds, not just this one,” the director observes. “According to them, they still never meddled in our elections…But I did find the humor in the idea that we should’ve been nominated under the fantasy category, when of course there isn’t one. Perhaps they could petition the Academy for one in the future.”
Much as outrage over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea has dimmed, the repercussions from the doping scandal have begun to wane. After Icarus brought the Russian perfidy to light, the International Olympic Committee formally banned the country from participation in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea (although dozens of individual Russia athletes were allowed to compete under the Olympic flag). But once those Games were over, the IOC lifted the Russian suspension.
“Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, his handling of this scandal was abominable,” Fogel declares. “The idea that they would reinstate Russia into international competition three weeks after the close of the Winter Olympics, even though they accepted no responsibility or accountability for the scandal, was abominable. What we’re seeing is essentially the continuation of that same doublethink that I put forward in Icarus, which is saying one thing and doing a complete other.”
Fogel has been in Australia recently for a series of speaking engagements, but he plans to return to the US in time for the Creative Arts Awards ceremony on September 8, where honors in documentary and several other fields will be presented. But his main character, Grigory Rodchenkov, will be absent, just as he was for the Academy Awards. With Fogel’s help, the scientist escaped to the United States in 2015. But a Moscow court has since issued a warrant for his arrest, and one Russian Olympic official publicly called for his execution. Rodchenkov currently lives in hiding under the protection of the US government.
Wherever Rodchenkov may be, he was able to hear the news about the Oscar win for Icarus, Fogel says.
“I know that he was very, very excited about that, and very proud,” the director comments. “I know at least from his lawyers that he is in good health, but the situation remains very serious for him…Being a whistle-blower who took the courage to come out with the truth against his own country, he’s had to live with that kind of fear for a very long time, and that certainly has utterly changed his life.”