Leni Riefenstahl

Leni Riefenstahl, documentary filmmaker or propagandist?

Leni Riefenstahl was a German dancer, actor and filmmaker between the 1920s and 1940s. She is most known for her career as a filmmaker, which flourished during the early years of the Nazi regime.

In Ray Muller’s documentary, The Wonderful, Horrible life of Leni Riefenstahl, Muller lets Riefenstahl tell her story but also tries to get it out of her that she was a Nazi collaborator. Throughout the film she seems like a stubborn independent woman, but it isn’t until Hitler and the Nazis are brought up that she gets angry. When asked about Goebbels’ diary entry stating that she was on good terms with both himself and Hitler and would regularly be invited over their houses, she lost her temper and stated that Goebbels hated her. The documentary clearly showed how passionate she was about filmmaking, which paints the picture that she was a creative filmmaker misused by the Nazis rather than a propagandist.

In Ellen Cheshire’s article Leni Riefenstahl: Documentary Film-Maker Or Propagandist, she writes “Riefenstahl's conception when filming these films could well have been to create an artistic emotional view of two events in German history through the genre of 'documentary.' However, given the political views at that time and throughout the following years, Triumph Of The Will and Olympia can be seen to symbolise the Nazi ethos of the time, which reflects Susan Sontag's view that Riefenstahl was an artist whose personal preoccupations were primarily artistic and technical, not political, but that her films were used by Hitler and the Nazi party for their own political games.” Which supports the image that Muller portrays of Riefenstahl in his documentary.
In Audrey Salkeld’s book A Portrait of Leni Riefenstahl, she writes about Triumph of the Will and discusses the propaganda within the film. She argues that even though there was clear propaganda for the Nazis, Riefenstahl was only being creative and...