"If you get too emotional about everything, it's just too hard," says Levi Leipheimer in the trailer for The Levi Effect: The Untold Story of Cyclist Levi Leipheimer. "You're like a salmon swimming upstream against your emotions."
The documentary, which premieres Sept. 28 in Santa Rosa on the eve of Levi's Granfondo, faced its first hurdle with its very own subject. When longtime friends and Bike Monkey duo Greg Fisher and Carlos Perez approached him with the idea, "Levi actually tried to talk us out of it," says Fisher. "He said, 'Why would you want to make a film about me? I'm boring.'"
Indeed, Leipheimer looks, acts and talks like a regular guy—that is, until he gets on a bike, at which point he transforms into an unstoppable beast. Even after breaking his leg earlier this year, Leipheimer was back on a stationary bike in training less than a week later, shots of which are in the film. But the film's goal isn't to deify the cyclist, says Fisher. "Rather than make a documentary about a linear reflection of the guy's life, [Perez] wanted to focus more on the impact, largely unwittingly, that he's had on the community."
But it isn't all roses, especially lately. The recent doping scandal surrounding Leipheimer's former teammate Lance Armstrong that has rocked the cycling world is part of the film—Leipheimer has been rumored to be involved—and the editing room was revisited several times with updates, making the film feel as current as possible.
It wasn't easy to fund the film, says Fisher, which cost about $300,000 to make. A Kickstarter campaign that failed to reach its goal meant the film will be distributed in a one-time theatrical event in cities around the country on Oct. 23, followed by a taped panel discussion with the filmmakers, Leipheimer, actor Patrick Dempsey and pro cyclist Tom Dempsey. (The discussion will be taped inside the main theater following the Santa Rosa premiere.)
"We leveraged a bunch of resources to get it started," says Fisher. But not one dime came from Leipheimer himself, because "it would have then become a promotion of him," says Fisher. "It's not a promotion of Levi, but a depiction of a particular context."
Sprouting some salmonesque fins himself, Fisher isn't as concerned with making money as he is with spreading the film's message of community-building through cycling. The Granfondo, taking place Sept. 29, is the best manifestation of that idea. "Everyone who participates in the Granfondo," says Fisher, "this is their movie."
Tickets for the 5pm premiere at Santa Rosa's Roxy Theater on Sept. 20 are $20. For info, see www.levieffect.com. Levi's Granfondo kicks off at 8am on Sept. 29, with a free FondoSonoma Festival with live music, food and more from 10am–6pm at Finley Park. 70 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa. 707.560.1122.