Leni Riefenstahl

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Leni Riefenstahl

Who is:

Berta Helene Amalie Leni Riefenstahl (August 22, 1902 ““ September 8, 2003) was a German athlete, actress, director and filmmaker widely noted for her aesthetics and advances in film technique. Her most famous works are documentary propaganda films for the German Nazi Party. Rejected by the film industry after World War II, she later pursued still photography and continued to make films of marine life.

Date of birth – dead:

August 22, 1902 – September 8, 2003

Relation to Rammstein:

Rammstein Stripped video was made from some scenes from Riefenstahl’s movie called Olympia.


Dancer and actor

Born in Berlin, Riefenstahl began her career as a self-styled and well-known interpretive dancer. In a 2002 interview, she said dancing was what made her truly happy. After injuring a knee, she attended a film about mountains and became fascinated with the possibilities of the medium. She went to the Alps for about a year and when she returned, confidentially approached Arnold Fanck, the director of the film she’d seen earlier, asking for a role in his next project. Riefenstahl went on to star in a number of Fanck’s bergfilme, presenting herself as an athletic and adventurous young woman with suggestive appeal. Riefenstahl’s career as an actor in silent films was prolific, and she became highly regarded by directors and publicly popular with German film-goers. When presented with the opportunity to direct Das Blaue Licht in 1932, she took it. Her main interest at first was in fictional films. Her last acting role before moving to directing was in the 1933 film SOS Eisberg (U.S. title SOS Iceberg); this film was released on DVD in the U.S. in November 2005.

Documentary filmmaker

She heard Adolf Hitler speak at a rally in 1932 and was mesmerized by his powers as a public speaker. Upon meeting Riefenstahl, Hitler, himself a frustrated artist, saw the chance to hire a visionary who could create the image of a strong, proud Wagnerian Germany radiating beauty, power, strength, and defiance, an image he could sell to the world. During a personal meeting he asked Riefenstahl to make a documentary and, in 1933, she directed the short film Der Sieg des Glaubens (Victory of Faith), an hour-long feature about the Nazi party rally at Nuremberg in 1933 (released on DVD in 2003). Reports vary as to whether she ever had a close relationship with Hitler but, impressed with her work, he then asked her to film the upcoming 1934 Party rally in Nuremberg. After initially turning down the project because she did not want to make a prescribed film, Riefenstahl began making another film titled Tiefland. She hired Walter Ruttmann to direct it in her place. When she fell ill, Tiefland was cancelled. Upon her recovery, she reviewed Ruttmann’s initial footage and found it to be terrible. She eventually relented to Hitler’s pressure, and resumed her role as director of the film. She was given unlimited resources, camera crews, budget, complete artistic control and final cut of the film. Triumph of the Will was a documentary glorifying Hitler and widely regarded as one of the most effective pieces of propaganda ever produced. It is generally regarded as a masterful, epic, innovative work of documentary filmmaking. Because it was commissioned by the Nazi party and used as propaganda, however, critics have said it is nearly impossible to separate the subject from the artist behind it. Triumph of the Will was a rousing success in Europe, but widely banned in America.

Triumph of the Will won many international awards as a ground-breaking example of filmmaking. She went on to make a film about the German Wehrmacht, released in 1935 as Tag der Freiheit (Day of Freedom).

In 1936 Riefenstahl qualified as an athlete to represent Germany in cross-country skiing for the Olympics but decided to film the event instead. This material became Olympia, a film widely noted for its technical and aesthetic achievements. She was the first to put a camera on rails, in this case to shoot the stadium crowd. Riefenstahls achievements in the making of Olympia have proved to be a major influence in modern sportscasting.

After World War II, she spent four years in a French detention camp. There were accusations she had used concentration camp inmates on her film sets, but those claims were not proven in court. Being unable to prove any culpable support of the Nazis, the court called her a sympathizer. In later interviews Riefenstahl maintained she was fascinated by the Nazis but politically naive and ignorant about the war crimes they committed.

In order to understand in a broader context the conclusions of the court, it’s important to know that after the war, every German had to be denazified. For that purpose, every person’s case was examined and his or her connections with the Nazi regime were linked to a degree of connection, from 1 (for the war criminals like Hermann Göring) to 5 (the latter meant completely innocent of any connection). Leni Riefenstahl belonged in group 4, not completely innocent but the lowest degree of relationship with the regime. Some other directors like Veit Harlan (who made the film Jud Süß (The Jew Süss) in 1940) were considered as to belong in category 5. A lot of these films are blatant Nazi propaganda. She denies it on the basis of her naivety.


  1. It’s too bad she was rejected from the film industry just for filming for the Nazis. It’s not like she had a choice – not her fault they happened to hire her. She was talented, her films weren’t “Aryan supremacy propaganda”. She just happened to exalt the beauty of Germany in a time period which was later deemed “politically incorrect”. Shame on such supposed correctness.


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