Posted Saturday, December 11, 1999

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New York, December 2, 1999

Jodie Foster to star in film about one of the world's most controversial figures


"Jodie FosterThe Leni Riefenstahl Project" will follow the life and times of a woman widely considered to be both a brilliant film maker and a Nazi propagandist. Riefenstahl was an intimate of the Nazi high command and directed the notorious 1934 pro-Hitler documentary "Triumph of the Will."

"She was perhaps one of the greatest film makers of all time, and yet her name will forever be linked to the horror of Nazi Germany," Foster told Variety in announcing the project. "There is no other woman in the 20th century who has been so admired and vilified simultaneously."

Riefenstahl, now 97, won acclaim as an actress, director and photographer in the 1920s and 1930s. She starred in and co-directed several beautifully shot German "mountain" films set in the Alps, and also directed "Olympia," a film about the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, considered by many experts to be the greatest sports documentary of all time. Riefenstahl's work on "Olympia" earned her an appearance on Time magazine's cover.

But her ties with Adolf Hitler and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels led her to film "Triumph of the Will," a mesmerizing documentation of a Nazi rally. Widely regarded as one of the greatest, and most sinister, propaganda films ever made, the movie also sealed Riefenstahl's reputation as a Nazi sympathizer -- a contention she has steadfastly denied.

Nevertheless, Riefenstahl was interned in Allied prison camps for three years at the end of World War II, and even though she was later cleared of any wrongdoing by denazification courts, Riefenstahl never worked in film again.

In the last several decades, Riefenstahl has had a revival of sorts. She has published several well-received books of photography about Sudanese tribesmen and underwater life. And she was the subject of a critically acclaimed 1993 documentary, "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl."

In addition to the Foster project, Germany's Odeon Films is developing a project based on Riefenstahl's autobiography "Memoiren," as well as a biography from Ernst Junger, "Stahlgewittern."

The title of the Foster project is only tentative. The film will be produced by Egg Pictures, Foster's production company, and will be written by Oscar-nominated (for "Philadelphia") Ron Nyswaner. Although Foster's company has what is known as a "first look" deal with Paramount (the studio has right of first refusal), U.S. distribution rights to the film are still unclear.

Related story: Making a Riefenstahl biopic: Why bother?

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