The Diplomat: Director's Moment

'The Diplomat'

About the film

At the height of the Cold War, Katarina Witt became one of East Germany's most famous athletes. Trained in an ice rink that gave rise to socialist heroes, Witt dominated figure skating by winning six European titles (1983-88), four world championships (1984-85, 1987-88) and back-to-back Olympic gold medals (1984 and 1988), becoming arguably the world's best in the sport.

Known as "the most beautiful face of socialism," Witt's success gave her a unique status in East Germany. It also triggered constant surveillance by the Stasi, East Germany's notorious secret police force. "The Diplomat" chronicles how Witt fought for her future in socialist East Germany, faced the great changes that occurred after the fall of the Berlin Wall and ended up both a beneficiary and victim of the East German regime.

"In a way, I was lucky. I was at the right time, at the right place," Witt recalls in "The Diplomat." "Of course, looking back, one thing is definitely wrong -- you cannot put people in a country and try to just leave them there. You live only once on this earth and you should be allowed to travel the world, to make up your own opinion. You need democracy."

Click here to learn more about the film and its directors, Jennifer Arnold and Senain Kheshgi.


What it was all about

As political tensions escalated in East Germany, Katarina Witt carried a huge weight leading into the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Sure, she was vying for her second straight Olympic gold medal, but she also knew her success could dictate her fate back home.

"I remember at the Olympics in '88, Katarina had the pressure of like, 'If I don't win the Olympics again, I might not be let out of this country anymore,'" Brian Boitano recalls in the film.

Witt wound up winning the gold, but one of the pivotal scenes in the film shows what happened next -- a play-by-play breakdown of how Witt, in a sense, negotiated her freedom to travel and earn money as a skater outside of East Germany.

"There was a ministry of sport [in East Germany] that handled every little detail of an athlete's life," Senain Kheshgi explained. "They were out there scouting for young kids from the early ages of 3, 4 and 5. There were special schools set up for athletes. Everything was controlled around an athlete's life. They were the elite.

"They were able to gain status by being part of this ministry and being groomed by this ministry. Katarina was one of the most important assets the country had. She was able to transcend their borders -- and not only as an athlete, but as a brand for the country."

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Directors Jennifer Arnold and Senain Kheshgi on an important scene from the film "The Diplomat":

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For us as athletes, it was terrible at that time. You had competed for your country, the country had been very proud of you, people had been very proud of you ... and within months, everything turned against you and you felt like, 'I haven't done anything different.' You just felt personally hurt.
Katarina Witt, from 'The Diplomat,' talking about competing for East Germany around the fall of the Berlin Wall

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