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Controversy Erupts over Showing of Two Nazi Propaganda Films

October 15, 1975
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The booking of two Nazi propaganda films by Leni Riefenstahl for screening at a film festival sponsored in part by the city and private funds, Has embroiled this community in a bitter controversy and brought charges of censorship against the southern office of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League, which has demanded that the films be withdrawn.

The films are “Triumph of Will,” a documentary on a Nazi mass rally in Nuremberg, produced in 1934, and “Olympiad,” a film on the 1936 Olympic games held in Berlin during which Hitler deliberately snubbed Jesse Owens the Black American track star.

The films by Riefenstahl, who was a close friend of Hitler, have been acclaimed by film experts for their camera technique. Stuart Lewengrub, director of the ADL here, said, “We would have absolutely no objection to the films if they were being shown at, say, seminar on film technique.”

He observed, however, that “what’s involved here is the praising of a woman who helped the Nazis at a festival meant to honor ‘humanistic’ achievement.” Louise Wiener, director of the festival, agreed with Lewengrub that “the context” was the issue, “It was an oversight, a lack of communication, and when the people from the city and the museum started choosing films they reached out in every direction,” she said.


But Gudmund Vigtel, director of the High Museum of Art, one of the sponsors of the film festival, charged that the ADL “put the pressure on us very hard, but we will not be subjected to any form of censorship.” Mayor Maynard Jackson said he personally found the films “disgusting and repugnant, in complete opposition to the principles upon which a humane society is based and unworthy of celebration.”

However, Jackson said that after consulting with Jewish community leaders and members of the arts community, he concluded that to withdraw the films might constitute government censorship. He said they would be shown “in a controlled atmosphere” and would be preceded and followed by “serious public discussion of their form and content.” The Riefenstahl films were picketed by Jews when they were shown at a film festival in Colorado in September, 1974,

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