In contrast to the outrage her early film work often caused, Leni Riefenstahl died peacefully in her sleep on September 8. One of the most renowned and reviled doc-makers of all time, Riefenstahl remained unrepentant to the end for her Nazi-glorifying films. Throughout her life, people found it impossible to separate her artistic achievement in docs Olympia and Triumph of the Will from the hideous doctrines of her patron, Adolf Hitler.
Her works are still admired by many for the innovative techniques she employed in editing and filming. In RealScreen‘s 2002 Year in Review issue, readers voted Riefenstahl one of the most influential doc-makers.
Her influence is not always measured in terms of technical prowess, however. ‘Leni Riefenstahl was most influential for doc-makers – not in her brilliant filmmaking, but for calling [attention to] the question of responsibility about our work,’ comments Jon Else, a professor at the University of California’s graduate school of journalism and a doc-maker. ‘Her documentaries are most valuable to me as a cautionary tale of our deals with the devil.’
In a 1999 interview, Riefenstahl told RealScreen,’[After my death]… I wish that all the legends, good or bad, that don’t have anything to do with me will go away, so that the real Leni can come to the surface.’