After lifting the lid on the worlds of Scientology and WikiLeaks, Academy Award and Emmy-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney has again teamed up with ESPN, this time to investigate how technology and science are impacting the future of sports.
“Enhanced,” the six-part docuseries that is currently streaming on ESPN+, takes viewers into the secret worlds of training, technology, recovery, mind exercises and even steroids to show how they are propelling record-breaking performances from athletes.
The subject is something that Gibney (“Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks,” “Chasing Hell”) had been talking to ESPN executives about for years.
“He’s been a sports fan for a long time and realized that the stakes get higher every year, records are broken … the equipment, the bodies and the sports look different,” Libby Geist, vice president and executive producer, ESPN Films and Original Content, told TheWrap. “We finally got our act together and said ‘yes, you’re right — let’s do this!'”
“It is really unique for us to make but also different in terms of any series we’ve seen,” she continued. “A lot of people are focused on steroids, but Alex goes much deeper to delve into what other tactics and changes are happening that continue to push athletes in both body and mind.”
As executive producer and narrator, Gibney chose the directors for each episode — titled “Mind Gurus,” “Power,” “Endurance,” “Skills,” “Algorithm Laws” and “Recovery” respectively — and spoke with experts including as Dan Coyle (“The Talent Code”) and David Epstein, investigative reporter at ProPublica and author of “The Sports Gene.”
The line between enhancing the body’s natural abilities and cheating is a very fine one, and Geist — who oversaw development, production and strategy for “O.J.: Made in America,” the 2017 Oscar Winner for Best Documentary Feature — says “Enhanced” doesn’t make any assumptions or judgments.
“The directors and Alex have laid out a lot of facts and left it to you to decide what you think about things,” she said. “There are some real moral dilemmas, such as when should these tactics be used on kids? Where do you draw the line? And that line just keeps moving. Every part of this makes you think. It is really complicated and not cut and dry — it’s sparked interesting and important conversations in our office and with viewers.
“There are so many different scenarios where you may be OK with an advancement in one place but not another,” Geist added. “I like the idea of us not telling people what to believe or be comfortable with. Being uncomfortable is a key part of storytelling, making people think and react is a good thing for us.”
One such episode, which features women’s soccer pro and Olympic gold medalist Megan Rapinoe, delves into the data evolution and where personal information gathered from athletes ends up.
“Some of the data collection is for the better of the team and athletes’ own personal gain, but what are people doing for with that information? How far do we go?” Geist asked. “It gets pretty intrusive pretty quickly once you start talking about menstruating and the color of their pee. Do you need all that?
“Wearing a heart monitor is no big deal and seems harmless now but it is a pretty slippery slope. We have no idea where that technology is going to lead. This is what’s happening now, but tomorrow something new will come along.”
Watch the trailer for “Enhanced” below.