Born in a Protestant family on August 22nd, 1902, Leni Reifenstahl, was a German actress, photographer and film director. Her father was a businessman and wanted Leni to follow his footsteps but she went after her mother’s belief, who imagined Leni in show business. Leni started taking dance classes from the age of sixteen and grew up to become a reputable dancer. She made many films for Arnold Frank and her recognition reached outside Germany as well.
She is popularly known for directing the propaganda film Triumph of the Will, by Nazi Party. Her career in film was concluded when Germany lost in the second world war. The film was named by Hitler and it became an epic example of propaganda. Leni became the primary female movie director to achieve international recognition, however she faced negative criticisms too.
In 1935, Leni made another film for the Nazi party, 18 minute Day of Freedom: Armed Forces. A year later, she was invited by Hitler to document the Olympic Games in Berlin. She was among the filmmakers who placed camera on rails to follow athletes in motion. This work of hers has tremendously influenced contemporary sports photography and there was no racial discrimination shown in the footage. After receiving much praise for Olympia, she headed for a publicity tour to America.
Moving forward, Leni Riefenstahl photographed the events happening in Poland during its invasion, as a war correspondent. By October 1939, she again produced a film for Hitler, Victory parade in Warsaw. She made quite a few movies for the party while in friendship with Hitler for 12 years.
Towards the end of the war, many of Leni’s raw footage and negatives were misplaced. The French government had confiscated the reels of Tiefland, a movie acted, directed, scripted and edited by Leni Riefenstahl. However, after much legal procedures, Leni was given the production reels. This was her last feature film.
During 1950s and 1960s, Leni tried to make films but she encountered public resistance, criticisms and protests. She wasn’t supported in any way, anywhere to produce films and the reason was her involvement and connections with the Nazi Party.
Jean Cocteau, however in 1954 tried to get Tiefland on Cannes Film Festival since he liked the film. Leni Riefenstahl collaborated with Cocteau to make Friedrich und Voltaire but after his death in 1963, the project came to an end.
In 1960s, Leni became interested in Africa and she began photography. She visited Africa several times. She took images in Sudan of the Nuba tribe. She intermittently lived with the tribe and learned their culture so that picturing them becomes easy. As a result, she became the first foreigner to receive Sudanese citizenship. The international bestselling photo books with images of the tribe were published in 1974, titled The last of the Nuba and in 1976 as The People of Kau.
She was awarded a gold medal by The Art Director’s Club of Germany for her best achievement in photography in 1975. In 1972, she photographed the Olympic games in Munich and in 1976, she was an honorary guest at the Olympic games in Montreal.
At the age of 72, she started pursuing underwater photography and published a book in 1978, Coral Gardens, followed by Wonder under Water. On her 100th birthday, Underwater Impressions was released by Leni, in 2002. At this time, she was still taking pictures of marine life and was acknowledged on being world’s oldest scuba diver.
Leni Riefenstahl died in her sleep on September 8th, 2003.