The German film director Leni Riefenstahl is one of the most controversial cultural figures of modern times. An actress and dancer by background, she established herself as a film director with The Blue Light, a romantic fantasy set in the mountains, a setting to which she often returned. The film projected her to fame and caught the attention of Adolf Hitler, then on the brink of power. She quickly fell under his spell and became, in effect, the official filmmaker for the Nazi party, making her most celebrated film, still generally regarded as a masterpiece, Triumph of the Will, as well as Olympia, about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Her defenders say she was a talented filmmaker, making her way as a woman in the overwhelmingly male environment of the Third Reich, and that her role in the regime should not obscure the filmic value of her work; her detractors say that she was a loyal servant of an appalling regime, whose image she helped to fashion and render both acceptable and glamorous. Most serious of all is the allegation that she knew perfectly well about the atrocities the regime carried out against Jews and Gypsies and that she even took advantage of them, selecting extras for her cherished film project Tiefland from a Gypsy concentration camp and apparently not worrying that most of them were later murdered in Auschwitz.
The Camera and the Girl looks at the older Leni, being interviewed for a film about her life by a young woman filmmaker. Her testimony is interspersed with re-enactments of key moments from her career, often involving music and dance, but the edges between reality and her version of the past rapidly get blurred as the young woman begins to challenge Leni’s version of the past. As an allegation about her wartime role gets ever closer to a formal hearing, Leni is faced with the most serious challenge of her life – who is the young woman, and what exactly is the Truth?
The Camera and the Girl will be put on by Anglia Ruskin Creative in 2017, directed by Richard Purkiss.
LENI: Bela? What are you doing here?
BELA: I leave Berlin tomorrow. I’m going to Russia!
BELA: They’ve invited me to go there to make films. I’m so excited! It’s a chance I mustn’t miss.
LENI: I didn’t know you were a Communist.
BELA: I’m not. But I can’t stay here, can I?
LENI: But why do you have to go to Russia?
BELA: No-one else has invited me. It’s a chance in a million.
LENI: I see. Well. Good luck. Bon voyage.
BELA: Leni, there is one thing. I’m sorry about this, but – The Blue Light. I still haven’t been paid.
BELA: My fee. As screenwriter. I’ve been writing to you about it. Why don’t you answer my letters?
LENI: I don’t know anything about that. I’m sorry. You’ll need to see the accounts people.
BELA: I have. They can’t do anything without authorisation from you. You’ve taken my name off the credits. Leni, I wrote that film. I haven’t received a penny for all my work. I’m sorry, but I need the money.
LENI: Bela, I told you at the time that you wouldn’t be paid.
BELA: You said you had no money to pay me until the film started making some. Well, now it is: it’s a success. Congratulations. I want my fee.
LENI: When do you leave for Russia?
BELA: Don’t change the subject.
BELA: In the morning. The train leaves at ten.
LENI: I’ll see what I can do.
BELA: Is that a guarantee?
LENI: I said I would do it.
BELA: Leni, I don’t know what’s happened between us. I liked working with you. I’d love to work with you again. If it’s something I said, then I’m sorry. I really admire your work, and – well – I like you. I hope we’re still friends.
LENI: Of course.
BELA: Good. I’m glad. Well, I’ve still got some things to pack. I’d better be going.
LENI: Bela – it’s nothing you’ve said. It’s nothing you’ve done. But things have changed. You know that.
BELA: Yes. They have, haven’t they?
LENI: Send me a postcard from Moscow.
BELA: Better not. I don’t want to get you into trouble.
(Exit BELA. LENI watches him go, then picks up the telephone.)
LENI: The Ministry of Propaganda, please. Put me through to the Reichsminister’s office. … Yes, it’s Leni Riefenstahl. That’s right. …Yes, of course. … Dr Goebbels? It’s Leni Riefenstahl. I was wondering if I might ask you a favour? … I’m being harassed by a Jew. A Hungarian Jew named Balazs. Bela Balazs. … How did you guess? Yes, he is a communist. In fact he’s off to Moscow in the morning. … Yes, really. Anyway, he’s demanding money off me. It’s about a film of mine he claims to have written. I don’t really understand the ins and outs of these things and I was wondering if I could give you power of attorney to deal with the matter? … Thank you, that is very kind of you. … Thursday evening? Yes, I’m free. … That would be delightful. I shall see you then.