Leni Riefenstahl on search for subjects in Kenya

BERLIN -- Leni Riefenstahl, the legendary filmmaker reviled and revered for movies she made about Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich, has died -- one of the last confidantes of the Nazi dictator. She was 101.

Riefenstahl died Monday 8th of September, 2003, at her home in the Bavarian lakeside village where she had lived for 20 years, the kind of idyllic setting that reflected the well-groomed aesthetic of her films and art. No cause of death was announced.

She made four films for Hitler, the best known of which were "Triumph of the Will," her masterwork recording the Nazi's 1934 rally at Nuremberg, and "Olympia," a meditation on muscle and movement at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games.

Both films accented her artistry, but more troubling to her critics, presented the Nazis to the world as peaceful and tolerant. Her portrayal of Olympic sports was sensual and stunning; her depiction of the Nuremberg rally shows Hitler in godlike poses and apple-cheeked children handing him flowers.

Leni Riefenstahl was born in Berlin in 1902. She studied painting and started her artistic career as a dancer. She became already so famous after her first dance hat Max Reinhardt engaged her for the “Deutsches Theater”.

An injury of the knee put an end to her sensational career. After that, she became famous as an actress, a film director, a film producer and a film reporter. She became world-renowned as an actress in the films “Der heilige Berg” (1926), “Der grobe Sprung” (1927), “Die weibe Hölle vom Piz Palü” (1929), “Stürme über dem Mont Blanc” (1930), “Der weibe Rausch” (1931), “Das Blaue Licht” (1932) and “SOS Eisberg” (1933).

Her greatest success she made with the documentary film “Triumph des Willens” named after the Reich Party Congress 1934 in Nuremberg which got the highest awards: The gold medal in Venice in 1935 and the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937. However, at the end of the war this film destroyed Leni Riefenstahl’s career, for now it had no longer been recognized as a piece of art but been condemned as a National Socialist propaganda film.

Her world-famous film about the Olympic games made the same experience. That film included two parts, part I “Fest der Völker” and part 2 “Fest der Schönheit” , and did also get the highest awards: the gold medal in Paris in 1937, the first price in Venice as the world’s best film in 1938, the Olympic Award by the IOC in 1939, and in 1956 it had been classified as one of the world’s best ten films.

As a photographer, too she soon gained the world’s elite after the war. Photo reportages about her stay with the Nuba were first published in the magazines “Stern”, “The Sunday Times Magazine”, “Paris Match”, “L’Europeo”, “Newsweek” and “The Sun”. Mainly her illustrated books “The Nuba” and “The Nuba of Kau” earned her further honours and awards.

At the age of 71, Leni Riefenstahl fulfilled a dream to herself, she had cherished for long: She attended a diving course to be able to also work as an underwater photographer in the future. Soon she became a master in this profession too. With her two illustrated books, “The coral gardens” and “The wonders under water” she had caused a worldwide sensation and got further honours and awards for them.

In 1987, Leni Riefenstahl published her ?Memoirs? which meanwhile have come out in 13 countries and reached a high circulation mainly in Japan and in the USA. In 1992, the documentary film ?Die Macht der Bilder? was produced over several months at original scenes where she herself could express her opinion about her life and her artistic work. This film too got several international awards - among them the ?Emmy Award? in the USA and in Japan the special price of the film critics.

Exhibitions of her photographs had been successfully organized i.a. in Tokyo (1980 and 1991), in Kuopio (Finland), in Milan and Rome (Italy), in Munich, Potsdam and Berlin (Germany), in Calpe (Spain) and in Knokke Heist (Belgium). Others are in preparation. In between, she is working untiringly on the finishing of her first underwater film, and that is why she visited the most wonderful diving areas repeatedly.

Even at the age of 94, she dived in Cocos Island (Costa Rica) and took pictures of sharks.
Even more unusual was her decision at the age of 97 to travel to the Sudan being isolated because of the civil wars which had been going on there for many years, in order to research the fate of her beloved Nuba and to bring them help. For 23 years she had not heard anything from her Nuba friends for it had been impossible to her to get an entry permission.

After long efforts, she finally had it, and she was even able to contact the rebel leader. Together with a small film team provided by the Odeon-Film Company, she travelled to Khartoum in February 2000 accompanied by Horst Kettner, her assistant of many years standing. First after a long time of waiting and hard negotiations, the team could travel to the Nuba mountains under the protection of a military convoy. Thousands of Nuba people were waiting for Leni Riefenstahl who has to know upon her arrival that her best friends had become victims of the civil war. She was deeply shattered.

Nevertheless, she wanted to search for her other friends still alive but this did not happen anymore. Because of the breaking out of new fights, she was forced to leave the Nuba mountains immediately. No protests did help. The team had to leave by a helicopter. Another disaster followed soon. After a stopover in El Obeid the helicopter crashed. As if by a miracle, there had been no dead but only injured. Leni Riefenstahl had to be taken by a rescue plane to a German hospital where they found that she had suffered a number of rib fractures the points of which had hurt the lungs.