×

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.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Zeroville

    Film Review: 'Zeroville'

    I’m tired of hearing how some novels are “impossible to adapt.” Balderdash! Just because some books don’t lend themselves to being translated from page to screen doesn’t mean that the attempt ought not to be made. Just ask James Franco, who’s shown a speed freak’s determination to tackle some of the unlikeliest literary adaptations of [...]

  • Red Penguins review

    Toronto Film Review: 'Red Penguins'

    “Red Penguins” is a cautionary tale with particular resonance in the context of our current bizarre intertwining with Russia, the country that interfered in the last U.S. presidential election and is led by the POTUS’ apparent BFF. This wild tale of attempted transnational commerce just after the demise of the USSR in the 1990s chronicles [...]

  • Danny Ramirez'On My Block' TV show

    Danny Ramirez to Star in Film Adaptation of 'Root Letter' Video Game (EXCLUSIVE)

    An English-language film adaptation of Japanese video game “Root Letter,” starring Danny Ramirez, is in production in the U.S. through Akatsuki Entertainment USA. Besides Ramirez (“Top Gun: Maverick,” “Assassination Nation”), the film stars Keana Marie (“Huge in France,” “Live in Pieces”) and Lydia Hearst (“The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” “Z Nation”). With a screenplay by [...]

  • Screen writer Beau WillimonMary Queen of

    Beau Willimon Re-Elected as President of Writers Guild of America East

    Beau Willimon, the playwright and showrunner who launched Netflix’s “House of Cards,” has been re-elected without opposition to a two-year term as president of the Writers Guild of America East. Willimon also ran unopposed in 2017 to succeed Michael Winship. Kathy McGee was elected to the vice president slot over Phil Pilato. Secretary-treasurer Bob Schneider [...]

  • Running With the Devil review

    Film Review: 'Running With the Devil'

    A retired Navy SEAL who for a time was a military advisor on the Colombian drug trade, Jason Cabell conceived his first solo feature as writer-director to tell the story of that particular commerce “from the point of view of the drugs.” The result isn’t exactly a docudrama indictment like “Traffic,” a thriller a la [...]

  • Sweetheart review

    Blumhouse's 'Sweetheart' Sets October Digital Release From Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    After making waves at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Blumhouse project “Sweetheart” is set to hit digital and on demand platforms. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will offer the film on all major streaming hubs and paid video on demand come Oct. 22, unleashing the creature feature which stars Kiersey Clemons in a harrowing tale [...]

  • Bob OdenkirkAFI Awards Luncheon, Los Angeles,

    Bob Odenkirk to Star in Thriller 'Nobody'

    “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk has signed on to star in the thriller “Nobody.” The Universal pic follows Hutch Mansell (Odenkirk), a suburban dad, overlooked husband, nothing neighbor — a “nobody.” When two thieves break into his home one night, Hutch’s unknown long-simmering rage is ignited and propels him on a brutal path that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content