The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)
"Die Macht der Bilder: Leni Riefenstahl" (original title)

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A documentary about the life and work of Leni Riefenstahl, a German film director most notorious for making the most effective propaganda films for the Nazis.



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Leni Riefenstahl's journey back to Sudan at the age of 97. She attempts to meet with people of the Nuba tribe, in a village she lived in and photographed during the 1970s.

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Credited cast:
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Herself (archive footage)
Walter Frentz ...
Himself - Camerman 1936 Olymipcs
Joseph Goebbels ...
Himself (archive footage) (as Josef Goebbels)
Rudolf Hess ...
Himself (archive footage)
John Herbert Higgins ...
Himself - U.S. Swimmer (archive footage)
Himself (archive footage)
Saburo Ito ...
Himself - Japanese Swimmer (archive footage)
Horst Kettner ...
Himself - Leni's Companion
Reizô Koike ...
Himself - Japanese Swimmer (archive footage)
Guzzi Lantschner ...
Himself - Camerman 1936 Olymipcs
Ralph Metcalfe ...
Himself - U.S. Sprinter (archive footage)
Ray Müller ...
Jesse Owens ...
Himself (archive footage)
Ernst Röhm ...
Himself (archive footage)


This documentary recounts the life and work of one of most famous, and yet reviled, German film directors in history, Leni Riefenstahl. The film recounts the rise of her career from a dancer, to a movie actor to the most important film director in Nazi Germany who directed such famous propaganda films as Triumph of the Will and Olympiad. The film also explores her later activities after Nazi Germany's defeat in 1945 and her disgrace for being so associated with it which includes her amazingly active life over the age of 90. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <>

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Release Date:

June 1994 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Power of the Image: Leni Riefenstahl  »

Filming Locations:

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$449,707 (USA)

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Edited from Triumph of the Will (1935) See more »

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User Reviews

The Horrible Life of the Wonderful Leni Riefenstahl.
26 January 2003 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

"The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" is a documentary film about the german filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Known for 'Olympia' and the notorious but no less brilliant 'Triumph of the Will', this woman was persecuted for her work commissioned by the Nazi party and was never allowed to make another film.

'Olympia' is a stunning documentary of the 1936 Olympics and has nothing to do with Hitler or the Nazi party. While making the film, Riefenstahl was a pioneer of angles and camera and filmmaking techniques which forever changed both documentary and feature filmmaking. It should be studied by every film student and lover of photography, both still and moving.

'Triumph of the Will' is an astonishing documentary of the 1934 Party Congress. Of 'Triumph of the Will' she says, "To me the film wasn't about politics. It was an event. I'd have made exactly the same film in Moscow, if the need arose, though I'd prefer not. Or in America, if something similar had taken place there. I shot the subject matter as well as I could and shaped it into a film." She then goes on to deny any participation in the political party and talks about turning down all offers to make any other political movies.

She admits openly that she got swept up in the passion of the early movement, when all the talk was of work (when so many were unemployed), freedom and peace. She was not in the minority: Hitler had the support of 90% of the people at that point. She also says that she did not want to make 'Triumph of the Will', resisting Goebbels' advances and offers, accepting only when Hitler himself asked her to film the event. Hitler's wish was his command and he told her, "I want this film to be made by an artist and not a Party film director." The filmmaker posits, "I feel people are expecting an admission of guilt from you." She replies:

"Well, what do you mean by that? What am I guilty of? I can and do regret making the film of the 1934 Party Congress, 'Triumph of the Will.' I, I can't regret that I was alive in that period. But no words of anti-semitism ever passed my lips. Nor did I write any. I was never anti-semitic and I never joined the Nazi party. So what am I guilty of? Tell me that. I didn't drop any atom bombs. I didn't denounce anyone. So where does my guilt lie?"

In the end, we see that Riefenstahl was a brilliant filmmaker of the highest order and an extraordinary woman. Her alleged association with the Nazi party completely destroyed her career for the rest of her life and robbed the world of 50 years of potentially brilliant, innovative filmmaking. Whether your interest lies in photography, filmmaking or political or European history, this documentary is not to be missed.

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