News / Arts & Entertainment

Documentary 'The Armstrong Lie' Deconstructs Cyclist's Myth-making

FILE - Lance Armstrong raises his arms as he crosses the finish line to win a stage of the Tour de France, July 2004.
FILE - Lance Armstrong raises his arms as he crosses the finish line to win a stage of the Tour de France, July 2004.
Reuters
Filmmaker Alex Gibney was not alone in being duped by Lance Armstrong and his strident denials that he had doped and cheated his way to cycling's biggest prizes over the years.

But Gibney was in a unique position as the Oscar-winning documentary director who had set out to make what he called a “feel-good” film about Armstrong's comeback in the Tour de France in 2009. Known for tackling tough subjects like torture during war and the fall of energy company Enron, Gibney could take a lighter approach to a common theme for him - winning at all costs.

That feel-good film was scrapped once doping allegations snowballed, a federal investigation was launched and the United States Anti-Doping Agency confirmed he had cheated by doping. When Armstrong finally admitted as much to talk show host Oprah Winfrey earlier this year, the film was revived and resulted in a very different documentary called The Armstrong Lie, which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday.

Gibney knew that with the remaking of the documentary, he himself would be a major player in the film.

“The story now was about Lance's myth-making process,” Gibney told Reuters. “This was a lie that was hiding in plain sight because Lance was its curator and a very careful curator of his own myth.”

FILE - Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey interviews cyclist Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas, January 14, 2013.FILE - Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey interviews cyclist Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas, January 14, 2013.
x
FILE - Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey interviews cyclist Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas, January 14, 2013.
FILE - Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey interviews cyclist Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas, January 14, 2013.
Around a month before the Oprah interview, Armstrong called Gibney, told him he had lied and apologized. A few hours after talking to Oprah, he sat down with Gibney and talked about living “one big” lie. And that is how the film opens, with an uncomfortable Armstrong speaking in rambling fashion, never quite coming clean or owning up to one of the biggest cheating scandals in sport.

Gibney, nevertheless, manages to make good use of the footage from his original project called The Road Back, taking the viewer on his journey on the 2009 Tour de France, where he had unparalleled access to Armstrong, who in turn would earn a share of the film's profits. Gibney was even allowed to interview the Italian doctor who Armstrong's critics believed was the brains behind the doping that took the cyclist from barely surviving cancer to winning the tour a record seven consecutive times.

“I think it was part of this plan for that year, which was 'Look at us. We are absolutely clean. We have nothing to hide',” said Gibney.


Unfinished business

A turning point for Gibney comes at the high-mountain Ventoux stage of the Tour de France, where he finds himself rooting for the American cyclist who was roaring back four years after retirement in 2005.

“I wasn't the objective, distant journalist,” Gibney said. “I had followed him on this ride to some extent. It was better for my story if he comes in third rather than fourth, off the podium. But at the same time I had developed an affection for him.”

As investigations opened and evidence mounted that Armstrong had engaged in doping over his career, the old sources in the Armstrong camp went underground, while new sources, namely Armstrong's teammates, starting speaking up. They play a big part in the refashioned film.

“There was now a wealth of detail...and some new people had come forward, principally Lance's chief lieutenant George Hincapie, to confirm these allegations,” said Gibney.

If for many it feels like there is unfinished business when it comes to Armstrong, Gibney says that's because Armstrong hasn't divulged what he knows about the sport's workings and matters like the sponsors' role in his cheating.

“We all know now that Lance doped,” Gibney said. “The bigger picture - some of which we suggest in the film - is still elusive, like how a sports organization works to protect its most lucrative athlete.”

Armstrong could speak up once his legal problems are resolved, including a federal whistleblower lawsuit that could end up costing him over $100 million if he loses the suit.

Gibney is still in touch with Armstrong, who didn't like the new name of the film, but seemed to accept it. The filmmaker said he too has had to accept some tough truths.

“What The Armstrong Lie process did for me as a filmmaker was to give me a fuller appreciation for this need to balance my own subjective feelings with a sense of larger perspective,” Gibney said.

You May Like

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.