‘Armstrong Lie’ deals with truth
LONDON: When Alex Gibney set out to make a movie about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s 2009 Tour de France comeback, the documentarian admits he bought into the hype: The man who’d cheated death was coming back to reign supreme – and clean.
“All of us fans wanted to believe,” said Gibney, who directed this summer’s wellreceived documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. “You want to root for people. That is what sports are all about.”
In fact, it was such a positive project, Armstrong himself had a “financial participation” in the film, Gibney said.
Then in 2011, things changed. The “feel- good movie,” as Gibney called the original version, was nearly finished when Armstrong’s exteammates, Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, began going public about Armstrong’s doping.
That same year, Armstrong faced a US government investigation into doping allegations.
Then last year, a federal Anti- Doping Agency report alleged Armstrong and his US Postal Service-sponsored team used performance-enhancing drugs.
It had become all too clear – Gibney needed to change the fabric of his film. What had been titled The Road Back became The Armstrong Lie, which opened in Europe this week.
“It was a lie that was hiding in plain sight,” said Gibney. Suspicions about Armstrong’s drug use actually began to surface in 2005, after former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu and his wife, Betsy, testified in a lawsuit about a drug confession they heard Armstrong make while hospitalised in 1996 during his bout with cancer.
( Armstrong later did his best to ostracise Frankie Andreu from the cycling world.)
“Most of the facts had been revealed a long time ago,” said Gibney. “The question was if they had been revealed, then how did Lance maintain that they weren’t true? That is what the film is about.”
Sitting with Oprah Winfrey in January of this year, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France seven times, titles that have since been revoked. Gibney was there as the interview was shot and insisted that Armstrong come clean in front of his camera, too.
“A long interview was hard to get in the wake of Oprah because that interview hadn’t done for him what he wanted it to do,” said Gibney. “He wanted his fans back. It didn’t work out that way. But I was moving forward with other people like Betsy (Andreu, who appears in the film). I think that was the reason he ultimately agreed to sit down: He wanted to feel a sense of control over his story and he knew that without his voice, things might go worse.”
“You have to call a fraud a fraud,” said Betsy Andreu in a phone interview. “Lance tried to use cancer to shield himself, but in my opinion, that is how he got the cancer – using all of those drugs. Growth hormones fuel cancer” –a theory supported by medical research.
Has Armstrong tainted the cycling world forever? “That’s the hard part,” said Gibney. “We want (athletes) to be superhuman, but we are surprised when they dope. That, to some extent, is where it falls on us.”
Though Armstrong has no plans to see the film – he sent his representatives instead – the disgraced cyclist will receive a small portion of the film’s profits.
“When the original deal was made, Lance had a financial participation,” Gibney explained, thus entitling Armstrong to a back-end deal with the new film. The film’s producers said the original deal with Armstrong was partly to secure his co-operation in making The Road Back, but that he was not an investor in the film.
Will Armstrong ever confirm what the Andreus said they heard in the hospital room in 1996? When did Armstrong actually start doping? “He wouldn’t tell me,” said Gibney.
“Lots of people were doping,” he said, “but the lie is what was really problematic with Lance’s story.” – Sapa-AP
CONFESSION: The interview with Oprah Winfrey during which Lance Armstrong admitted using performance enhancing drugs.
TESTIMONY: Betsy Andreu appears in the film.
FILM: Director Alex Gibney had to change tactics.
ROCKED: Alec Baldwin reported stalking to police.