ESPN Films and espnW have announced the film slate for Nine for IX, a documentary series focused on captivating stories of women in sports told through the lens of female filmmakers. Nine for IX film topics include an intimate look at Pat Summitt, college sports’ most successful coach ever, the largely unknown history of Katarina Witt and her link with East Germany’s secret police, and the focus of sex in the marketing of female athletes. The series is scheduled to premiere on July 2 on ESPN and the films will air over consecutive Tuesday evenings at 8pm ET.
“ESPN Films is always looking to advance sports storytelling by working with the most dynamic voices and Nine for IX gives us a terrific opportunity to highlight women’s sports stories through the eyes of an incredible collection of directors,” said Connor Schell, vice president of ESPN Films. “We are confident that fans of 30 for 30 will enjoy these creative, story-driven documentaries from an impressive roster of Oscar-nominated, and Emmy/Peabody-Award winning female filmmakers.”
“espnW is a voice for the woman who loves sports and, as we continue to grow, we are developing new and powerful ways to engage women with compelling stories that live across ESPN’s multimedia platforms,” said Laura Gentile, vice president of espnW. “Through Nine for IX and the expanded content on espnW.com, we are spotlighting the athletes, coaches and teams that have defined women’s sports for a generation.”
Films scheduled to air as part of Nine for IX include:
Venus Vs. (Ava DuVernay)
Everyone knows about the swing. Everyone knows about the swagger. But what most Americans don’t know about Venus Williams is how she changed the course of her sport. In a stunning case that captured the attention of the European public beginning in 2005, Williams challenged the long-held practice of paying women tennis players less money than their male counterparts at the French Open and Wimbledon. With a deep sense of obligation to the legacy of Billie Jean King, Williams lobbied Parliament, UNESCO and Fleet Street for financial parity. Indeed, it was her poignant op-ed piece in The London Times that convinced many people that the tournament organizers at Wimbledon were “on the wrong side of history.” The boys clubs at Roland Garros and Wimbledon finally relented in 2007. In fact, it was at Wimbledon that year that Venus became the first women’s champion to earn as much as the men’s (Roger Federer). So to her seven major championships, another victory can be added.
Pat XO (Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern / Produced by Robin Roberts)
On April 18, 2012, Pat Summit, the winningest coach in the history of the NCAA basketball, did the unimaginable and announced her resignation from the University of Tennessee. On the very same day, her son Tyler was named assistant coach of the Marquette’s women’s basketball team, his first job out of college. While the sports world reeled from the news of Pat’s early on-set Alzheimer’s, the coach and her son quietly set out to beat this challenge just as they had every other – with grace, humor and most of all, each other. Pat XO tells the remarkable story of Pat Summit as it’s never been told before. This raw, authentic portrait takes the camera from the filmmaker’s hands and places it into those who know her best. With Tyler as the lead storyteller, moving recollections are shared by assistant coaches, players like Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Michelle Marciniak, fellow coach Geno Auriemma, and such admirers as Peyton Manning and Kenny Chesney. The archival footage and statistical records woven into the film provide their own insights into a woman who cared about winning, but also about elevating her players and her university. If it’s possible to do justice to Pat Summitt, Pat XO does it.
The Diplomat (Jennifer Arnold and Senain Khesghi)
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 her field by winning six European skating titles, five world championships and back-to-back Olympic gold medals to become arguably the world’s best figure skater. Known as “the most beautiful face of socialism” her success gave her a unique status in East Germany. It also triggered constant surveillance by the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police force. This film chronicles how Witt, one of the greatest skaters of all time, fought for her future in socialist East Germany, how she faced the great changes that occurred after the fall of The Berlin Wall and, ultimately, how she ended up both a beneficiary and victim of the East German regime.
Runner (Shola Lynch)
Mary Decker obliterated opponents and records with blazing speed and a starving hunger to win. She dominated her sport, holding U.S. records in every distance from 800 to 10,000 meters, and she did it all without the Olympics. She was too young in ’72, hurt in ’76 and shut out by the U.S. boycott in ’80. As Sports Illustrated’s cover “Sportswoman of the Year” in 1983, she was ready: 1984 was the target, with the Olympics in Los Angeles and her skills at their 25 year-old peak. But the story leads to a single shocking moment in the 1984 Games, with Mary writhing on the ground in physical pain and emotional heartbreak, with the whole world watching.
No Limits (Alison Ellwood)
As a teenager, Audrey Mestre suffered from scoliosis, but in those formative years, she discovered a passion for the ocean. It offered her a sense of freedom, and the burdens she faced on dry land soon dissipated as she slipped below the surface. In the final stages of her PH.D., Mestre was drawn to Cabo San Lucas where she became infatuated with free-diver Pipin Ferreras, a Cuban defector whose dives had put him at the forefront of the sport. The two became a couple and Mestre followed the elusive, often raucous Pipin on his almost spiritual quest to push his limits underwater. Soon enough, Mestre moved from support team member to ardent free-diver and then to a world-class competitor who outshone her husband. In 2002, after news arrived that a rival female diver named Tanya Streeter had successfully gone to a record-breaking 525 feet, Pipin began preparations for Mestre to make a 561-foot dive off the coast of the Canary Island. Having completed practice dives even deeper in the weeks leading up to the record attempt, Mestre was prepared. But because of a fateful decision before the dive, Mestre never resurfaced alive.
Branded (Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady)
Anna Kournikova was never the greatest tennis player in the world. In fact, she never rose higher than No. 8 on the WTA world singles rankings. But her looks and willingness to capitalize on them made her the most famous tennis player on the planet and ultimately, a pioneer for fellow women athletes who understand that sometimes, sex sells. Sports is supposed to be the ultimate level playing field, but in the media and on Madison Avenue sometimes looks matter more than accomplishments. This film explores the double standard placed on women athletes to be the best players on the field and the sexiest off them. Branded explores the question: can women’s sports ever gain an equal footing with their male counterparts or will sex always override achievement?
Let Them Wear Towels (Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern)
Lisa Olson was just trying to do her job as a reporter for the Boston Herald in 1990 when a group of New England Patriot players sexually harassed her in their locker room by exposing their genitals and making lewd and vulgar comments. Even though a subsequent NFL investigation concluded that Olson had been “degraded and humiliated,” the 25-year-old continued to be tormented by Patriot fans—so much so that she temporarily moved to Australia to resume her career. In the meantime, the story touched off a national debate about the presence of female journalists in the male sanctum of the clubhouse. That debate should have been settled 12 years earlier, when Melissa Ludtke of Sports Illustrated successfully challenged Major League Baseball after she was kept out of the New York Yankees locker room. Why had equal access for women reporters remained such a hot-button issue? That question is asked in Let Them Wear Towels, a history and examination of females working in the man’s world of the locker room. Through interviews with such pioneer women as Ludtke, Claire Smith, Lesley Visser and Jane Gross, you’ll hear stories of raw behavior and humorous retaliation, angry lawsuits and remarkable resolve.
Swoopes (Hannah Storm)
Sheryl Swoopes has famously been labeled as the female Michael Jordan. Actually, she’s far more interesting. On the court, she was nearly as dominant as Michael: a national championship with Texas Tech, three Olympic gold medals, three MVP awards and four consecutive championships with the Houston Comets of the WNBA, the league she helped start. She even had a Nike shoe named after her, the Air Swoopes. Off the court, she gave birth in the middle of her first WNBA championship season, divorced her high school sweetheart, and became the highest-profile athlete in her sport to declare she was gay. She has struggled with love, family, money and lack of recognition, but she has never lost her spirit. In this portrait, viewers will meet someone who’s not the everyday superstar, a woman who has defied a multitude of labels, including “old” – in August 2011, Swoopes, at 40, hit a buzzer-beater to end the Tulsa Shock’s 20-game losing streak.
The ‘99ers (Erin Leyden / Produced by Julie Foudy)
The world of women’s sports was kicked upside down on July 10, 1999. Before a sold-out crowd of more than 90,000 at the Rose Bowl and an estimated 40 million Americans watching on television, the women’s soccer team reached a cultural and athletic pinnacle with its penalty-kick shoot-out victory over China to win the Women’s World Cup. These players were more than the ponytailed poster girls celebrated by mainstream media. As told through the voice of longtime team captain, Julie Foudy, viewers get an inside look at the strong team ethic and rare “do for each other” mentality that propelled them to victory that day and turned the team into a cultural touchstone. With unprecedented access, the film uses candid, behind-the-scenes footage shot by the players themselves during the tournament to present a unique portrait of the women who irrevocably changed the face of women’s athletics. Reuniting key players from the 1999 squad and talking with current U.S. players as well, the film examines how women’s soccer – and women’s sports as a whole – has changed since that epic day at the Rose Bowl.
More information and a trailer for Nine for IX can be viewed at espnW.com.
About ESPN Films
Created in March 2008, ESPN Films produces high-quality films showcasing some of the most compelling stories in sports. In October 2009, ESPN Films launched the Peabody Award-winning, Producer’s Guild Award-winning and Emmy-nominated 30 for 30 film series. Inspired by ESPN’s 30th Anniversary, the films that made up the series were a thoughtful and innovative reflection on the past three decades told through the lens of diverse and interesting sports fans and social commentators. The strong reaction from both critics and fans led to the launch of 30 for 30 Volume II, which is currently underway. Additional projects from ESPN Films include, among others, the critically acclaimed and Television Academy Honor-winning The 16th Man, Cannes Film Festival official selection The Two Escobars, and the Peabody Award-winning Black Magic. Broke, from filmmaker Billy Corben, and You Don’t Know Bo, from director Michael Bonfiglio, were featured in the last slate of ESPN Films.
espnW’s mission is to serve women as fans and athletes. espnW.com provides an engaging environment that offers total access to female athletes and the sports they play, takes fans inside the biggest events, and shares a unique point of view on the sports stories that matter most to women. Founded in July, 2010, espnW lives across television, events, films, digital and social platforms. The annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit is the leading event of its kind in the sports industry. The Women’s Sports Foundation is a charity of choice for espnW.