Wednesday, March 7, 2018

'Icarus' wins Best Documentary, making a political point at Putin's expense

One of the tasks I set out for myself at the end of Diversity, representation, inclusion, and fantasy all winners at the 90th Academy Awards was to write about the political implications of "Icarus" winning Best Documentary FeatureWatch ICARUS Oscar 2018 Acceptance Speech for Best Documentary Feature from ABC The Oscars.

Watch Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan's Oscar 2018 acceptance speech for Documentary Feature for ICARUS at the 90th Academy Awards.
Greta Gerwig and Laura Dern present Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan with the Oscar® for Documentary Feature for "Icarus" at the 90th Oscars® in 2018.Greta Gerwig and Laura Dern present Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan with the Oscar® for Documentary Feature for "Icarus" at the 90th Oscars® in 2018.
Frankly, that came as a surprise to me, as I thought "Faces, Places" would win, writing "'Faces, Places' looks like the clear favorite among documentaries" with 40 points total according to my giving it two points for every awards show win and one point for every nomination.  In contrast, "Icarus" appeared to be the weakest of all the nominees with only 11 points based on the same scoring system.  However, I shouldn't have been completely surprised, as FiveThirtyEight had it tied with "Faces, Places" in their weighted scoring system and claimed it as a win, albeit halfheartedly.

Still, this win means something, especially because the entire Motion Picture Academy membership votes on documentaries, not just the documentarians.  I have a feeling they wanted to send a message, just like the Television Academy did at the Emmy Awards.  The TV people reacted to Donald Trump at their awards; how could voting for "Icarus" be a sign that the movie people did?  The answer is indirectly.  Follow over the jump to read how.

I am going to review what I wrote late last December about this film.
"Icarus" seems like an odd choice for a political film, as it's nominally about sports.  However, it ended up being about the politics of sports.  The Atlantic explains how that happened.
When he set out to make Icarus, the playwright and actor Bryan Fogel had one goal: to examine how easy it is to get away with doping in professional sport. An enthusiastic amateur cyclist, he was disturbed by the fact that someone like Lance Armstrong could cheat for so many years and never fail a single drug test. “Originally,” he explains in the film, “the idea I had was to prove the system in place to test athletes was bullshit.”

What actually happened was a bit like tugging on an errant thread and having the entire clothing industry unravel right on top of you. Fogel, while conducting a human guinea-pig experiment in which he took performance-enhancing drugs to prepare for a race, was connected with a Russian doctor who ended up blowing the whistle on a state-sponsored doping scheme that had been ongoing in Russia for decades. Icarus, initially intended as a Super Size Me–style effort to poke holes in the anti-doping system, ended up capturing the maelstrom of one of the biggest scandals in sporting history, while former anti-doping officials were dying under mysterious circumstances and the IOC was pondering whether Russia should be banned outright from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Russia may not have been banned from last year's Summer Olympics, but, as CNN reported, Russia banned from Winter Olympics but 'clean' athletes can compete.  That news makes this film extremely timely.
Watch the Official Trailer for "Icarus" from Netflix to see the highlights of the film.

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel sets out on a mission to learn about performance-enhancing drugs in sports. What he ends up discovering is far bigger than anyone could have even imagined.
To make it even more explicit, watch Bryan Fogel Accidentally Documented the Russian Olympic Doping Scandal from Late Night with Seth Meyers.

Bryan Fogel explains how he unintentionally documented the Russian Olympic doping scandal for his film Icarus and helped the mastermind escape to the U.S.
Notice whose name shows up in both clips, Vladimir Putin, who is in a bad bromance with Trump and meddled on his behalf during the 2016 election.  Voting for "Icarus" not only recognized a great piece of documentary film-making, but sent a message of disapproval to Putin and Russia, not just about the doping, but about his interfering in the election on behalf of Trump.  No other nominee could have done that, not "Strong Island" even with its "Black Lives Matter" message, not "Abacaus" with its own anti-racist theme, not "Last Men in Aleppo," and certainly not the apolitical "Faces, Places."  I had a hunch that might happen, but followed the data, which suggested an entirely different outcome.  Sometimes, I have to examine my assumptions in order to understand things.  As I've written before about awards shows, electorates matter, and the Oscar electorate was mad at Trump and Putin.


  1. Why shouldn't athletes use any and all methods to improve their performance?

    1. Allowing doping would turn the events into a competition for the best doping techniques rather than the best athletes. All competitions need to have some rules. Why not let marathon runners compete by driving cars instead of running? The rules are defined by what kind of competition it's supposed to be.

    2. "Why not let marathon runners compete by driving cars instead of running?" Strawman.

    3. Oh, my, I was thinking of introducing you two and here you are. I think the two of you are getting off on the wrong foot. Nebris, you might find a more agreeable topic over at Infidel 753's blog, where he asks "Are men necessary? You've thought about that question for decades and would have something constructive and interesting to say about it.

    4. Strawman.

      Perfectly analogous to the doping question. In both cases it would mean changing the competition into a contest over who could come up with the best technology (the best doping techniques / the fastest cars), something totally at odds with the original nature of the competition, in exactly the same way.

  2. Obviously the US has the best doping system because they mostly haven't been caught yet. Lets not forget that it was an American scandal that went on for years that initiated this investigation in the first place.

    1. That was Lance Armstrong, not a government operation, and it wasn't so good that he escaped detection and punishment indefinitely.