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Soderbergh Says Abandoned Leni Riefenstahl Biopic Would Focus On Director Battling The Studio System

Photo of Kevin Jagernauth By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist September 23, 2013 at 1:20PM

Perhaps only super attentive Steven Soderbergh fans are aware but at one time, the director was kicking around the idea of making a movie about controversial filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. The German director is best known for making the Nazi propaganda piece "Triumph Of The Will" which actual content aside, is regarded by many as a pretty technically accomplished work. Soderbergh had worked with Scott Z. Burns on a script about Riefenstahl, cracked the story and then ultimately realized, perhaps correctly, that no studio would finance such a movie. So instead, he and Burns pitched "Contagion" which got them a thumbs up and off they went. But whatever happened with the Riefensthal movie?
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Steven Soderbergh

Perhaps only super attentive Steven Soderbergh fans are aware but at one time, the director was kicking around the idea of making a movie about controversial filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. The German director is best known for making the Nazi propaganda piece "Triumph Of The Will" which actual content aside, is regarded by many as a pretty technically accomplished work. Soderbergh had worked with Scott Z. Burns on a script about Riefenstahl, cracked the story and then ultimately realized, perhaps correctly, that no studio would finance such a movie. So instead, he and Burns pitched "Contagion" which got them a thumbs up and off they went. But whatever happened with the Riefensthal movie?

Presumably, it's sitting in a desk somewhere but a couple of years ago, Soderbergh elaborated a bit more on the fascinating approach.  "[Scott] and I were working on it and I thought we had an interesting take on it which was: to see if we could make the audience root for her and treat Hitler and Goebbels as like the studio heads and treat her as the aggrieved artist who is being held back by Phillistines and to really flip the thing upside down," he explained. "The job is not to judge your characters, your job is to present their point of view as they would want it presented so I thought, 'Wow, that would be interesting if you could somehow over 90 minutes convince somebody to root for someone who probably on some level was pretty horrible."

And speaking recently with NPR, Soderbergh shared a bit more about how the story would've been told in the film. "And so the movie at no point leaves her point of view, or delves into any of these moral questions at all. The whole design of the movie is that you are rooting for her to win. And the film ends with her onstage after the premier of 'Triumph of the Will' with people throwing roses at her and she's beaming," he said. "And that's the end of the movie. Now, what we realized after we solved this sort of creative problem was no one would go see this."

"I wanted to just be inside of her point of view," Soderbergh says about why he wanted to do the movie in the first place, particularly one that didn't take a stand one way or the other on the filmmaker. "...And so to me, it - the questions are there for the audience. They don't need to be there for her."

It sounds like an interesting experiment and sort of a reverse "Erin Brokovich"—a woman crusading but for something totally evil, and presenting it without a moral compass to guide the audience, was probably the kind of challenge Soderbergh was interested to explore. But he's probably right that no one would make such a movie, so we'll have to leave it on his cinematic leftovers for now as he heads into television for his next creative endeavor.

What do you think of the Riefenstahl movie? Would you have been curious to see it?

This article is related to: Steven Soderbergh


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