'Icarus' Follows a Cyclist’s Unexpected Journey

“Icarus,”will be shown at Guild Hall on Saturday as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival’s SummerDocs series
Grigory Rodchenkov, left, and Bryan Fogel conferred behind a palisade of urine samples in the documentary “Icarus.”

Bryan Fogel’s documentary “Icarus,” which will be shown at Guild Hall on Saturday as part of the Hamptons International Film Festival’s SummerDocs series, establishes its original intentions early on. It opens with voice-overs of the track and field star Marion Jones and the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong asserting that they never used performance-enhancing drugs. 

The film cuts to Mr. Fogel in Boulder, Colo., preparing to race in the seven-day Haute Route in France, the hardest amateur cycling event in the world. He has been a passionate cyclist for 28 years and competed in many amateur events. The last time he rode in the Haute Route, “totally clean, I finished 14th out of 440 masochists. I was destroyed. I couldn’t walk for the next three weeks.”

When Mr. Armstrong confesses his use of drugs to Oprah Winfrey, Mr. Fogel says, “I always suspected as much but didn’t really want to know.” Enter Don Catlin, who operated the U.C.L.A. Olympic lab for 25 years. He tested Mr. Armstrong 50 times, and the cyclist passed every one. 

“They’re all doping,” says Mr. Catlin. “With knowledge, it’s really easy to beat, very easy.” Mr. Fogel then presents his idea: to prove testing doesn’t work by doping himself in preparation for the next Haute Route and subjecting himself to testing. 

Mr. Catlin puts the filmmaker in touch with Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia’s antidoping lab. As the training-doping process begins, with Mr. Rodchenkov and Mr. Fogel communicating by Skype, the suspense concerns whether the regimen will lead to a better result at the Haute Route and whether Mr. Fogel will evade detection.

When, in December 2014, a German television documentary alleges systematic doping in Russian athletics, it becomes clear to Mr. Fogel that there is a bigger story than he at first realized. His relationship with Mr. Rodchenkov moves forward, they become friends, and the doping regimen continues, but at the same time the stakes for both men are raised.

Mr. Rodchenkov emerges as a very likable character, retaining his senses of humor and irony even as the World Anti-Doping Agency is keeping his lab on a “short leash” in the wake of the German documentary. 

Eventually, Mr. Rodchenkov comes to the United States, where he is subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. When the head of the Russian antidoping agency suddenly dies of a heart attack at 52, Mr. Rodchenkov is skeptical. In part because going public with his story might in the end protect him, the Russian talks to The New York Times, which publishes his revelations in May 2016.

“Grigory and I had and have a real friendship,” said Mr. Fogel, “and his life was in my hands . . . he wants to tell his story, and the best way to actually protect him is to make this story public. As long as it’s sitting in my hands and Grigory’s hands and he’s the only person on the planet who is alive and can corroborate the story, he is incredibly in danger.”

Not only is the entire Russian antidoping program exposed as fraudulent, with details revealed about how urine swapping enabled Russian athletes to escape detection at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Mr. Rodchenkov’s revelations also implicate Vladimir Putin. 

The story is complicated, but never less than riveting. Asked if he ever considered abandoning the project as the complications and risks increased, Mr. Fogel said, “I never thought to myself that I was going to back away from the story. As an athlete I had already taken extraordinary risks, racing my bike down a mountain at 70 m.p.h. in the Alps where I could have had a horrific crash.” 

Nevertheless, his commitment to the project, to Mr. Rodchenkov, and to the telling of the story are remarkable for someone who, prior to “Icarus,” had been an actor and comedian best known for co-writing an Off Broadway play, “Jewtopia,” and later directing the film version.

The screening will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, with Alec Baldwin and Mr. Fogel set to discuss the film afterward. “I’m secretly wishing that Alec could introduce the film as Trump,” said Mr. Fogel. “What could be better than that?”