Coming to ESPN as part of their Nine for IX series tomorrow, Tuesday, August 6: THE DIPLOMAT
Jennifer Arnold and Senain Kheshgi’s exploration of Eastern bloc politics through Katarina Witt’s story had its debut at Tribeca this year. The film was commissioned by ESPN for its women-directed, women in sports doc series, an offshoot of the network’s popular 30 for 30 doc brand.
During the Cold War, the international sports arena was a charged space, the site of not only physical battles, but also deeply political ones. Arnold and Kheshgi’s film focuses on East Germany’s most recognizable athlete, figure skating champion Katarina Witt, arguably the country’s greatest cultural ambassador to the West. Under a repressive system that greatly limited the personal liberties of its citizens, Witt and her fellow athletes benefited from the one thing the state got right – sports. Supported financially by the state apparatus to win victories for communism, Witt excelled in international events, including winning consecutive Olympic gold medals – a feat on which her coach, Jutta Müller, and she cannily pinned the possibility for an unprecedented career in professional sports, hitherto impossible in East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, Witt and other athletes come under fire when revelations were made about the relative luxury they enjoyed in contrast to their fellow citizens. At the same time, Witt learned of the constant Stasi surveillance she had been under, including informing done by trusted friends and colleagues. Through interviews with Witt, Müller, former East German leader Egon Krenz, Stasi archivists, and others, Arnold and Kheshgi offer a revealing look at the machinery of sports under communism, and how one woman turned it to her own advantage.