Helene Bertha Amalie "Leni" Riefenstahl (German: [ˈʁiːfənʃtaːl]; 22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director, producer, screenwriter, editor, photographer, actress and dancer.
Born in 1902 into a Protestant family, Riefenstahl grew up alongside her brother Heinz, who was later killed in World War II. A talented swimmer and artist, she also became interested in dancing during her childhood, taking dancing lessons and performing across Europe.
After seeing a promotional poster for the 1924 film Der Berg des Schicksals ("The Mountain of Destiny"), Riefenstahl was inspired to move into acting. Between 1925 and 1929, she starred in five successful motion pictures. In 1932, Riefenstahl decided to try directing with her own film called Das Blaue Licht ("The Blue Light"). In the 1930s, she directed Triumph des Willens ("Triumph of the Will") and Olympia, resulting in worldwide attention and acclaim. Both movies are widely considered two of the most effective, and technically innovative, propaganda films ever made. Her involvement in Triumph des Willens, however, would significantly damage her career and reputation after the war. The exact nature of her relationship with Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler remains a matter of debate, although a friendship is known to have existed.
After the war, Riefenstahl was arrested, but classified as being a "fellow traveler" only and was not associated with war crimes. Throughout her life, she denied having known about the Holocaust, and won nearly 50 libel cases. Besides directing, Riefenstahl released an autobiography and wrote several books on the Nuba people.
Riefenstahl died of cancer on 8 September 2003 at the age of 101 and was buried at Munich Waldfriedhof. She was praised for her body of work following her death and remains one of the most acclaimed female movie directors.