German actress/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl began her performing career as a dancer in 1920, studying with famed instructor Mary Wigman. In 1926, she was cast by director Dr. Arnold Fanck in the first of her many "mountain films" (a genre peculiar to Germany that had been popularized by Fanck), Peaks of Destiny (1926). The best known and most popular of her athletic starring vehicles was 1929's The White Hell of Pitz Palu. Having learned the whys and wherefores of directing and photography from Fanck, Riefenstahl expressed a desire to direct a film herself. The result was The Blue Light (1931), a true "auteur" effort: starring, directed by, edited by, and co-written by Riefenstahl, it was released through the newly formed Leni Riefenstahl Studio-Film.
The Blue Light impressed many people, including Adolf Hitler, who, upon gaining power in 1933, appointed Riefenstahl "film expert" to the National Socialist Party. Her first effort on behalf of the Nazis was the cheaply produced 1933 documentary Victory of the Faith. The following year, with the full cooperation of Hitler and with 30 cameras and 120 assistants at her disposal, Riefenstahl made a film of the fourth Nuremberg rally, Triumph of the Will (1934). Observed objectively, the film is an artistic triumph; still, it is blatant propaganda on behalf of the Third Reich, and, as such, has engendered controversy ever since its release. The debate still rages as to whether Riefenstahl was merely recording events that had been staged by the Party (as she has claimed), or whether she alone was responsible for the film's persuasive visual dynamics and production design.