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

Amnesty: EU Failing Migrants, Refugees

Rights group says migrants, refugees subject to detention, extortion, beatings More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deali
X
July 07, 2015 12:02 PM
If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”