Flirting with Controversy | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 13.05.2002
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Flirting with Controversy

Leni Riefenstahl thrives on controversy. The film-maker with the infamous Nazi-era links, plans to release a new movie in time for her 100th birthday.


Is there anything she hasn't done?

Spunky is what Leni Riefenstahl has always been. Right from the time that she defied her father and began to learn dance to her latest diving escapades at the age of 70 in the Indian Ocean.

And her "devil-may-care" attitude inevitably landed her in one controversy after another.

Unable to shake off Nazi associations

Probably the biggest controversy was her close association with the Nazi regime. This one surfaced after she made "Triumph of the Will", a powerful documentary of the 1934 Nazi party rally in Nuremberg.

That along with her 1938 film, "Olympia", a documentary on the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games made her a pariah, as the press had a field time calling her "Nazi pin-up girl", "Nazi sympathizer" and "Hitler’s girl".

Unfortunately, the Nazi scandal tainted her reputation so severely, that Leni Riefenstahl found herself blacklisted in the film world thereafter.

After the Second World War in 1945, Leni Riefenstahl faced Allied charges of producing Nazi propaganda films and of having close ties to Hitler and was even imprisoned. It was only after her interrogation, that the Americans officially "denazified" her and released her. But the damage had been done by then.

Storming male bastions

Unfortunately Leni Riefenstahl's Third Reich associations overshadowed the tremendous impact that her early well-crafted black and white films had on world cinema.

A woman in a man’s world of direction and film-making, Leni Riefenstahl pioneered and enhanced many of the sports photography techniques during the making of "Olympia" that we now take for granted: slow motion, underwater diving shots, panoramic aerial shots and tracking systems for following fast action.

In the words of Ray Müller, director of the documentary, "The Wonderful, horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl", "her talent was her tragedy".

The latest film

And yet Leni Riefenstahl remains invincible. After her last film, "Tiefland" was released in 1954, she has announced another one.

This time it’s a 45-minute movie, "Underwater Impressions". It’s a compilation of footage from the more than 2,000 scuba-dives she made in the Indian Ocean between 1947 and 2000.

"The film will have its premier in August exactly in time for my 100th birthday," Die Welt newspaper quoted Riefenstahl as saying.