Leni Riefenstahl (10 People Who Lived To 100)

Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl

Helene Bertha Amalie Riefenstahl was a German film director, dancer and actress widely noted for her aesthetics and innovations as a filmaker.

Born to a working class family in Berlin, on August 22nd 1902, Riefenstahl began her career as a dancer before moving to acting in silent films. In the early 1930s, Riefenstahl gave up acting to pursue her love of film directing and photgraphy. Her first film, Daus Blaue Licht, released in 1932, was critically acclaimed and became hugely popular throughout Germany.

Riefenstahl became a supporter of Hitler shortly after he came to power, and wrote of his mesmerising abilities as a public speaker. Hitler, himself, was a fan of Riefenstahl’s work and asked her to direct a film about the Nazi Party’s 1933 Nuremberg rally, titled Victory of Faith.

Impressed by her work, Hitler asked her to direct another film about their 1934 Nuremberg rally, called Triumph of the Will. The film used pioneering camera and cinematography techniques to create a rousing and uplifting portrait of the Nazi party. Today the film is regarded as one of the greatest documentaries and propaganda pieces ever made, despite its distasteful subject matter.

In 1936, she was hired by Hitler to film the Berlin Olympic Games. The result, Olympia, is considered one of the greatest sport documentaries ever made, praised for its aesthetic beauty and pioneering use of the tracking shot, and various revolutionary editing techniques.

During the war, she remained in and around Germany, shooting as film production of Tiefland, based on Hitler’s favourite opera of the same name by Eugene d’Albert. However she fell ill, and the film wasn’t completed until 1954.

Despite being detained after the war, Riefenstahl denied any involvement with Nazi war crimes, nor any knowledge of them. After the war, she was unable to secure funding for her films due to her nefarious associations, and was often met with protests wherever she went. Nevertheless, Riefenstahl regained some respect as a photographer in Africa during the 70s, and as an underwater photographer. Her final film, Underwater Impressions, was a film presenting an idealised view of the life in the oceans. It was her first film since Tiefland.

Though she has always been accused of helping further Nazi propaganda, Riefenstahl is admired as one the greatest directors of all time, and along with Soviet film-maker Sergei Eisenstein, one of the pioneers of modern propaganda films.

Leni Riefenstahl died on September 8th 2003, aged 101.