By Cheryl Furjanic and Will Sweeney | /Bent June 20, 2014 at 3:23PM
years ago we read that Olympic Champion diver Greg Louganis was returning to
the sport of diving -- as a coach and Olympic mentor -- after a two decade-long
absence. As filmmakers in our late
thirties, we both had fond and vivid memories of Greg in the Olympic
Games. We thought a film about Louganis
and his return to the sport synonomous with his name would make for an
We called and talked to Greg and we were all excited about the idea. The result of these last three years of work together is our feature-length documentary "Back on Board: Greg Louganis" which is making its world premiere this Friday at the AFI Docs Film Festival.
After spending three years with him, we can tell you (and our film does it even better), that even when you think you know everything there is to know about Greg, trust us, there's more. "Back on Board: Greg Louganis" is an intimate portrait of Greg's private struggles and public triumphs.
While once a household name, we found that mentions of "Greg Louganis" today is met with a wide range of responses: From “Isn’t he the one who hit his head?” or “Is he still alive,” to “Wow, I LOVE him, what ever happened to him?” to -- way too often -- blank stares from young people who had never heard his name in their lifetimes.
So what did happen to Louganis? There's a common perception that Olympic Gold Medalists are set for life right? Well, not if you were known to be gay in the 1980's and came out publicly at HIV+ in the 1990's. Well, we certainly didn't expect to find Greg on the brink of bankruptcy when we began shooting. How did he end up there and how did he end up so far away from "his sport?"
We knew that Greg’s return to diving gave us a natural way to tell his unique story and explore his enduring legacy. The film follows Louganis as he reunites with the sport he once dominated but never felt entirely welcome in. A critical question of the film is “how is it that the greatest diver of all time feels rejected by his own sport?” While there isn't just one answer to this question, there are certainly a variety of factors that were at play.
Greg was never closeted but in the 1980's. While he was diving, Greg and the press seemed to have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Newspaper mentions of his "live in manager," or his "roommate/manager," or his "best friend, who he lives with," were all thinly veiled public acknowledgements of his homosexuality. Greg's impact as an example challenging the "athlete stereotype" made even more of an impact when he came out as HIV+ in his 1995 autobiography. Before Jason Collins, before Michael Sam, Greg Louganis was blazing trails. Before Greg, David Kopay was speaking up by coming out. Thankfully, times have changed.
Audiences will see the evolution of American society’s attitudes towards the LGBT community and acceptance of individuals with HIV/AIDS unfold by watching our film. What Greg experienced during the Olympics in 1976, 1984, and 1988 illustrate how much the world has changed in three decades but as recent horrible news reports from Russia and Brunei illustrate -- there is still much more work to be done.
It was a pleasure for us to experience the unique beauty and grace of Louganis’s perfect diving (over and over and over) in the editing room. This along with Greg's never-seen-before archival footage, present the awesome artistry of Louganis and his gravity-defying precision and excellence on the diving board. There is exquisite pleasure from watching slow-motion dives performed and studying the intricate form of the human body in motion. All of this is set against Greg's internal dialogue of what was going on in his heart and mind, and in his personal life, while he was presenting an incredibly stunning image of America's favorite athlete. At the core of our film are several incredibly touching relationships -- between Greg and his coach, Greg and his mom, and Greg and his boyfriend (now husband).
It has been an honor to make this film with, and about, Greg. We look forward to the impact that our film has on audiences at film festivals and beyond. Louganis' resilience is awe-inspiring to behold and has proved to be a source of inspiration for us many times over while making this film.
Cheryl Furjanic is the director, producer and co-writer of “Back on Board: Greg Louganis”. Will Sweeney is the producer and co-writer of “Back on Board: Greg Louganis”. The film premieres at AFI Docs Friday, June 20 before hitting both Outfest and Frameline.