ESPN Films and espnW’s Nine for IX film series continues tonight (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) with “The Diplomat”, chronicling the story of Katarina Witt. The figure skater became one of East Germany’s most famous athletes during the Cold War.
Co-directors Senain Kheshgi and Jennifer Arnold spoke to Front Row on the eve of their film’s ESPN debut.
Why did you choose to document Witt’s story?
We’re interested in telling stories that are rich, nuanced and full of twists and turns. Katarina was a beautiful and charismatic figure skater who represented her country as the most “beautiful face of socialism” only to be caught up in Cold War politics and the eventual demise of her country. She was loved by her nation, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall, she was seen as a symbol for the old regime. It is an amazingly compelling story.
You were able to interview numerous East Germans and gain access to the Stasi secret police archives for the film. As an American, was that process as difficult as it seems?
In our research phase, we were told that it would be difficult to get prominent figures to speak to us about life in East Germany, particularly the Stasi. Yet, we were amazed that many people came forth and agreed to talk to us in depth. They told us it was because we were Americans interested in their personal stories. We weren’t making this film with preconceived notions – we were trying to understand the truth as the people of East Germany experienced it.
What does it mean for you as female filmmakers to be a part of the Nine for IX documentary series?
We grew up after Title IX was passed. So when we were young, we, perhaps naively, expected to have equal opportunities in life. Sadly, in this line of work, it hasn’t always been the case. For that reason, we’re very thankful and proud to be in the Nine for IX series — a series that highlights women’s power and accomplishments. We’re happy to be working with ESPN to tip those scales.