David Fialkow has made plenty of winning investments since cofounding the VC firm General Catalyst in Cambridge nearly two decades ago. None have been quite like this one.
Fialkow hopped on the Dolby Theatre stage in Los Angeles Sunday to accept the Oscar for best documentary for “Icarus,” alongside director Bryan Fogel and co-producers Dan Cogan and Jim Swartz.
The movie starts off with Fogel experimenting on himself to see if doping could improve his cycling, the film’s original focus. But it takes an important turn: Fogel’s Russian source ends up blowing the whistle on an illicit doping operation for Olympic athletes, a twist with international implications.
Fialkow and Swartz, another prominent venture capitalist, invested in the movie through a firm Cogan runs, Impact Partners. They recouped their money by selling the film to Netflix last year for $5 million; Fialkow says profits will be used to help other whistle-blowers.
Fialkow seems both floored and humbled by the quality of the other nominated documentaries. It’s possible the unexpected timeliness of the Russian themes — his film was shot before President Trump took office — resonated with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters, elevating “Icarus” above the other nominees.
But they all benefit, in some way, from rising demand. Netflix, in its thirst for original content, has been an aggressive buyer, and the “Icarus” price was among the highest paid for a documentary so far. Fialkow says distribution options have widened dramatically in the past five years as Netflix and rivals such as Amazon and HBO, among others, chase nonfiction flicks.
“We are in the golden age of the documentary film business,” Fialkow says. “That really hit home when I was out there.”Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.