After reading the bestseller, "The Boys in the Boat," which details the USA's champion rowing team from the 1936 Olympic Games, I became fascinated with the mountain-climber, artist, actress, and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.
Ms. Riefenstahl (1902-2003), is probably best known for her 1935 documentary, "Triumph of the Will" which presents an artistically shot and edited montage of the 1934 Nazi Party Congress. By using multiple cameras, unique shooting techniques, and unusual camera angles, Riefenstahl, and her crew created one of the most dramatic and powerful propaganda films of all time.
With the support of Adolf Hitler and having won major awards for the film, Riefenstahl was hired to document the 1936 Olympic Games held in Berlin. Olympia (Festival of Nations, 1938) expanded upon Leni's graphically striking cinematographic style. The finished film celebrates athletics through the artistic beauty of the human form. Despite the underlying pro-Nazi political undertones, the work is still regarded as one of the best films of all time.
After a quick search on Amazon, I found a DVD, entitled "The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993)," a 3-hour documentary featuring live interviews with the artist. At the age of 90, Riefenstahl, still shunned by the world due to her propaganda work, was at the time, experimenting with underwater photography. Still an adventurer at heart she donned full SCUBA gear with camera in hand, well beneath the surface.
Why did I find this story fascinating?
Regarding her association with leaders of the Nazi Party, Riefenstahl depicted this as merely a designer/client business relationship. She saw her work as artistic expression and refused to accept responsibility for igniting the emotions of a regime that over time, was responsible for horrible atrocities, including genocide.
Occasionally, as visual communicators, we are asked to work on projects for products/services that fail to meet morally sound parameters. Sure, the artistic freedom or compensation may be tough to pass up. However, at the end of the day, it will be the final product that defines your character–not just as a creative professional, but as a responsible citizen of the planet.
Leni Riefenstahl created beautifully and award-winning work. But for eternity, she will be held accountable for her participation in helping to build the evil empire of Nazi Germany.