Bryan Fogel's film led to Russia's ban from 2018 Winter Olympics
Bryan Fogel's whistleblowing documentary Icarus, which exposed Russia's vast state-sponsored athletics doping program, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
The victory came as perhaps a mild surprise because many pre-Oscar awards had gone to Faces Places and Strong Island. Last Men in Aleppo and Abacus: Small Enough to Jail were the other contenders in the field.
Fogel bounded to the stage to accept the Oscar along with producer Dan Cogan. He saluted the main character in his film, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia's anti-doping lab in Moscow. In the film, the chemist revealed how he helped Russian athletes take performance-enhancing drugs and then guided them on how to avoid detection -- a conspiracy to cheat that Rodchenkov said was ordered at the highest levels of the Kremlin.
After he came clean about the doping program, Rodchenkov fled to the United States with help from Fogel and Cogan. He is now living in hiding, protected by federal authorities.
There is a hunt going on for him, at least as what we've been told.
"We dedicate this award to Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, our fearless whistleblower who now lives in grave danger," he told the audience. "We hope Icarus is a wake-up call, yes, about Russia. But more than that, about the importance of telling the truth, now more than ever."
Cogan thanked his wife, fellow documentary director and previous Oscar nominee Liz Garbus.
"You taught me everything I know about how to support great filmmaker because you are one," he said of his wife.
After the award was presented, host Jimmy Kimmel cracked, "Well, now at least we know Putin didn't rig this competition."
In the press room backstage, Fogel was asked about Rodchenkov, who recently told the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes emissaries of the Russian government are probing ways to kill him, a fate that has befallen others who crossed President Putin.
"From what we know, which is secondhand information, the threat is very real. There is a hunt going on for him, at least as what we've been told," Fogel said. "And more importantly, Russia has formally asked for his extradition. And in Russia, he has been made out to be a liar and somebody who is deceitful, and the Russian media has not honestly reported on this story, while they continue to blame this entire scandal on one individual while not taking a single shred of responsibility for this scandal...
"So as to Grigory's safety, it is a precarious situation ‑‑ and we are hopeful that our government will continue to protect him. And as to his future, it is one that is in doubt, because what we are seeing is that telling the truth doesn't necessarily set you free. And in regards to telling the truth against Russia and your own country, not only does it not set you free, but it makes you a wanted and hunted man. And that is tragic."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.