described as “the most beautiful face of socialism,” she would eventually pose
for Playboy. As a back-to-back Olympic gold medalist,
Katarina Witt represented the greatest success of the East German athletic
program. Yet, in light of subsequent
revelations, she might be the most deeply confused former East German about the
Communist era. At least, such seems to
be the case judging from Jennifer Arnold & Senain Kheshgi’s documentary
profile, The Diplomat, produced as
part of ESPN Films’ Nine for IX series,
several of which screen during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
clearly had the X factor at an early age, attracting East Germany’s preeminent
figure skating coach and abundant state support. She was duly grateful for both. As she began winning championships, Witt
became an important symbol for state propaganda. She did her part willingly. Yet, she was always aware her opportunities
to travel outside the closed country were a rare blessing.
Witt did not realize until after the fall of the Wall was the level of
surveillance the state maintained on her, despite her dutiful service. She was also shocked to learn several friends
spied on her for the dreaded Stasi, including a remorseful fellow figure skater,
whom Arnold & Kheshgi interview at length.
she remains an important international sports figure, Witt still seems unsure
how to process everything that happened post-1989. We see how staggered she was by the
outpouring of East German resentment when the size and extent of GDR state
subsidies to athletes was revealed. She
argues Olympics medalists like her did something extraordinary on the world
stage, thereby earning their compensation.
That is a completely reasonable position, but a far cry from “from each
according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
they are understandably reluctant to dig-in and challenge Witt, Arnold &
Kheshgi thoroughly establish the oppressive nature of the GDR and the intrusive
methods of the Stasi, much to their credit.
Some of their best talking head commentary comes from the
post-Unification custodians of the Stasi Archives. For further creepy context, they also scored
a sit down with Moscow’s final GDR hardliner Egon Krenz, who once headed the captive
nation’s athletic machine, but would eventually be convicted for crimes
committed against the German people.
For many Americans watching the Olympics, Witt
was always a kind of ice queen. The Diplomat offers a fuller, more
complicated picture. It is hard to say
how much she was and still is in a state of denial. Yet, it is clear anyone born into such a
system with any sort of talent would have to navigate some thorny
situations. An intriguing portrait of a
gifted athlete representing a system rife with “internal contradictions,” The Diplomat screens again as part of a
double bill with No Limits this
Saturday (4/27) during the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Labels: Documentary, Katarina Witt, Tribeca '13