Documentary by Katie Leimkuehler ’07 chronicles tale of turning tragedy into triumph
By Katie Leimkuehler ’07
Katie Leimkuehler ’07 will be featured on Miami’s Love. Honor. Learn. webinar hub on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. Her presentation will be archived for future viewing.
“Did we get the shot?” I asked my director, Hans. I’m not sure why I even asked this question, Hans was the type of director who would always get the shot or die trying. Four skiers raced past him, his hands were steady holding the camera. A drone flew overhead.
“We got it,” Hans said.
And it was at this moment I realized, “We’re doing it, we’re actually making a movie.”
Getting to this blue bird day on the snowcapped mountains of Colorado can only be described as relentless perseverance. I didn’t know I was going to make a film. It was never my plan to produce a documentary. But somehow here I was doing it. It had taken me a few years to get to this point. Finding the right story, right team and direction was a process. And throughout it all, there was one thing that drove me forward and that was the story.
My grandfather’s story of losing his leg in World War II, starting a prosthetic business and then developing outriggers for adaptive skiers stayed with me my whole life. He had turned his biggest tragedy into a triumph. It was a story that needed to be told and it needed to be shared.
The story started off as a screenplay and developed into a documentary called “Fresh Tracks.” I don’t have background in film, so I had no idea what I had signed up for. In an effort to shorten my learning curve, I decided to learn as much as possible from the experts who’ve done what I wanted to do. Over the course of a few years, I was lucky enough to interview and talk to more than 50 or so filmmakers, directors and producers to ask the question I was dying to know: “What’s the best way to make a documentary?” And I learned one thing: there wasn’t one. Some filmmakers came in with a story in mind; others found the story as they went. The most important takeaway for me was that the path could be your own.
Next, I needed to find my team. I contacted high quality production crews and action sports filmmakers, and while these were all good possibilities, there was something missing.
I started to think, what was really important to me about this film? And the answer was: the message. That’s what I wanted to highlight, and I needed to work with people who weren’t just filmmakers but understood the message.
I strategized on a new creative approach. Instead of finding the best director, I wanted to find a partner. In an attempt to reengineer the typical filmmaking process, I watched dozens of sports documentaries and studied the production companies who made them. One evening, I watched the documentary “Empty Net” on Amazon Prime on the journey of the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team and I was hooked. The story was strong, impactful and done beautifully. The next day, I reached out to Jeremy Snyder, the co-CEO of the TFA GROUP who had produced the film, and our collaboration began. We filmed in Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park and Loveland Pass in Colorado and in Minnesota interviewing Paralympic skiers and snowboarders. We filmed in Cleveland talking to family members to bring the story to life. In less than a year after our first conversation, our film was finished.
It’s been an incredible journey to see to what once was an idea on a page turned into a documentary. I couldn’t be more thankful to everyone who helped make it happen. My grandfather’s story always inspired me to reimagine challenges as opportunities, and I hope the film “Fresh Tracks” inspires others to do the same.