Generation Iron writer and director Vlad Yudin turns an unwavering eye on the world of professional bodybuilding. “They’re an oddity—a circus show with no tent,” narrator Mickey Rourke says during the documentary’s opening. But over the course of the film, Yudin turns this fascination with bodily extremes into a conversation about art, entertainment and sport by focusing on eight individual athletes’ stories. Here, the New York native discusses how he got into this world, and what he learned from it.
Is Generation Iron a remake of Pumping Ironor an update of it?
Some people do call it a remake or update, but it’s really more a long-awaited sequel. Pumping Ironintroduced the bodybuilding culture to the world. … Thirty-six years later, professional bodybuilding and competitions are still taboo in mainstream media. So, I wanted to explore the sport, and when I was doing research, I discovered a lot of colorful and interesting characters, whose stories needed to be told.
Do you have a personal connection to the world of bodybuilding?
I work out, but nothing like these guys. I just find bodybuilding very artistic, and I think most people don’t realize that. People think bodybuilders are rough, but they have a sensitive side; it’s an art. Their canvas is their body. The final product is a creation. As a filmmaker, I can relate to that.
Some people see a sinister side to bodybuilding—the drugs and extreme physicality. Did you find that in your research?
When you look at professional bodybuilding, it’s important to remember, it’s a professional sport. When fans watch a football game, or any other sport, they expect to see a spectacle. When you go to professional competitions, fans demand greatness, even perfection. Over the years, bodybuilders got tremendously bigger, because of many different enhancements. You see the same thing in any sport, but most people talk about steroids in relation to bodybuilding.
Were you aiming for a balanced treatment of the steroids issue in the film?
Our main objective from the beginning was to be honest. Some people refused to talk about it; others were very open. A lot of people might object to the film having brought it up at all. It’s kind of the elephant in the room.
Professional athletes with corporate sponsors are way ahead of regulators, in terms of performance enhancement. Did you see anything that goes beyond steroids?
In general, bodybuilders live a healthy lifestyle. They are very closely monitored. When you’re a bodybuilder at this level, you’re playing a very extreme sport, putting your body through a lot of stress, so you have to balance it with clean eating, rest, that kind of thing. A lot of the products you see in the local vitamin store, machines you see at the gym, have been advanced because of input from bodybuilders and their trainers.
You were shooting in Las Vegas during the 2011 and 2012 Mr. Olympia competitions. What was that like?
Mr. Olympia made this film what it is. Every bodybuilder dreams of winning that title, and Vegas is the perfect stage for it. There are a lot of people, a lot of fans, and it gets very intense on stage—but even more so backstage, where competitors are getting ready for the show. We got some great footage there.
What would compel non-bodybuilding fans to see this film?
It’s an interesting story, a dramatic story. It gets intense between the guys. The competition will keep people engaged, but it’s also a different look at this world, from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know anything about it.
How did you get into this world?
I don’t remember when, exactly, I was talking to someone about it, and it just kind of came up. That world always intrigued me; I remember getting muscle magazines as a kid. … Then, I got the chance to meet Jerome Gary, the producer of “Pumping Iron,” through a mutual acquaintance and we got the idea of making a new version of it. He was the producer on my project.
Where can Las Vegans see Generation Iron?
It opens on September 20, and we’ll be at the Rainbow Promenade 10, Town Square 18 and Century Orleans 18.