Sundance: Netflix Lands Russian Doping Documentary ‘Icarus’ (EXCLUSIVE)

In an historic deal for a documentary, Netflix has landed “Icarus,” a buzzy examination of the Russian doping scandal, Variety has learned. The $5 million pact is one of the biggest ever for a non-fiction film.

Bidding for the film was intense from almost the moment it premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. There were several interested studios circling the project at various points, including Sony Pictures Classics, Neon, Magnolia, and Amazon.

The film contained a killer pitch, and was described by its PR team as a movie that kicks off in the mold of Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”), but ends up in the tradition of Laura Poitras (“Citizenfour”). To investigate doping in sports, director Bryan Fogel, an amateur bike racer, decided to dope himself to see if it would strengthen his endurance. To do so, he connected with a renegade Russian scientist, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. Through the doctor, Fogel was able to blow the lid off Russia’s state-sponsored Olympic doping program. With reports of Russian meddling in the U.S. election dominating the news, “Icarus” could not be more topical.

“This has been an intense 3.5-year personal journey that exposed the biggest scandal in sports history,” Fogel said in a statement. “To be able to work with Netflix, a company that is able to launch this story globally in such a big way, with such potential for social and political impact, is a spectacular honor.”

It’s been a particularly busy festival for Netflix. The streaming leviathan arrived at Sundance with eight completed projects in tow and has been a force on the acquisitions front. “Icarus” marks the fifth non-fiction pickup for Netflix so far. The company also bought “Chasing Coral,” a look at global warming, and “Don’t Speak,” an inside look at Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker.

Netflix will give the film an awards push and will release it simultaneously on its streaming service across 190 countries. Impact Partners backed the film. The company is a major presence at this year’s festival, with five releases, including “Trophy,” which sold to The Orchard and CNN, and “Step” to its credit.

Fogel co-wrote the film with Mark Monroe and Timothy Rode, and produced it with Dan Cogan, David Fialkow and Jim Swartz.

UTA Independent Film Group negotiated the deal.

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