Leni Riefenstahl claimed throughout her life that all the gypsies used in the film as extras were treated very well and that "all of them were seen after the war", safe and sound. It was not until the late 70's and 80's that documents were found proving that she personally went and selected the gypsy extras in the Maxglan-Leopoldskron camp (near Salzburg) for filming in the Dolomites in 1940, and in 1942, in the Marzahn camp for the studio scenes, filmed in Babelsberg. These extras are seen, for instance, in the dancing sequence in the tavern, and when gypsy children run along Pedro when he comes down from the mountain to marry Martha. It is also now proven that most of the Gypsy extras perished in the Auschwitz extermination camp.
Leni Riefenstahl began working on the script in 1934, but shelved it when she became more involved with Nazi propaganda films. After the beginning of World War II, and disturbed by atrocities she witnessed, she had herself dispensed from shooting war documentaries. Using her influence as Adolf Hitler's favourite film maker she managed her own production company, Riefenstahl Film, GmbH, independently of the control of Joseph Goebbels who oversaw cultural and propaganda activities. Financed by Hitler with money from the Nazi party and the government, she remained outside of Goebbels' control. Goebbels eventually was not happy about it as the project ran into difficulties and cost overruns.
Leni Riefenstahl started filming in Spain in 1940, but forced by war events soon shifted her work to the Alps, in Germany in the Karwendel and in Italy in the Rosengarten of the Dolomites, as well as the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin.
Leni Riefenstahl's ongoing rivalry with Joseph Goebbels caused problems. In 1941, Goebbels had complained about the "waste of money", and one year later called it a "rat's nest of entanglements". He wanted funds diverted to more prestigious projects like Kolberg (1945).
After the bombing of the Babelsberg studios in Berlin, the Barrandov Studios in Prague were used to further the work, and by the time the war came to the end, Leni Riefenstahl was in the editing and synchronization process at Kitzbühl.
Leni Riefenstahl didn't intend to play the lead. She did so because she couldn't find an actress to her liking. She later regretted the decision, as she looked much too old by her own account. "When I saw myself on the screen, I was embarrassed. There was no doubt about it, I was miscast."
After the war, the film was confiscated and kept by French authorities for several years, but eventually returned to her. Four reels of film were missing when Leni Riefenstahl received the film, notably the scenes shot in Spain. Despite efforts she failed to retrieve the missing footage. After its final editing, the movie was released in 1954.
The revisionist view of the 1990s has suggested that the film is a criticism of Nazism. Historians have claimed that the film's true value is as a psychobiography, stressing the film as a political allegory rather than melodrama. Sebastian represents a totalitarian government that tramples the rights and needs of the people, and Pedro is a hero who is "naive" and apolitical, only doing what he thinks is right. Even the wolf could be construed as an allegory for Hitler. Riefenstahl insisted that none of her movies had any political messages, and only conceded that this movie was her "inner emigration". Other interpretations saw the marquis as a representant of a Hitler figure, Martha as a stand-in for a repentant Leni, an unfortunate tempted by opportunism.
In 2002, the hundred year old Leni Riefenstahl was taken to court by a Roma group for denial of the extermination of the gypsies. As a consequence of the case Riefenstahl made the following apology, "I regret that Sinti & Roma had to suffer during the period of National Socialism. It is known today that many of them were murdered in concentration camps."