Leni Riefenstahl, the German filmmaker who became a favourite of Adolf Hitler, has died at the age of 101, the mayor of the town where she lived said on Tuesday.

Rainer Schnitzler told Agence France Presse that the legendary director and photographer had died late Monday at her home in the Bavarian town of Poecking.

"Her heart just stopped beating," Riefenstahl's longtime companion Horst Kettner told the online edition of lifestyle magazine Bunte earlier on Tuesday.

Riefenstahl had just celebrated her 101st birthday on August 22 quietly in bed recovering from a cancer operation.

Although widely admired as one of the world's great filmmakers, Riefenstahl remained deeply controversial because her two major works were funded by, and intended to glorify, Hitler's regime.

They were Triumph Of The Will in 1934 which all but deified Hitler, and Olympia in 1936, a record of the Olympic Games staged in Berlin that year.

Born in 1902 into a lower middle-class family in Berlin, Riefenstahl embarked on a career as a dancer over the objections of her family.

An injury made her switch to acting, but it was not long before she took a shine to directing and in 1932 released her first acclaimed film, The Blue Light, in which she also starred.

Among its many admirers was Hitler, who won power in 1933 and quickly commissioned the ambitious propaganda films.

Riefenstahl was shunned in Germany after World War II despite being cleared of Nazi guilt by the Allies.

After avoiding the public eye for decades, she turned her attention to the Nuba tribesmen in Sudan in the 1970s.

Although the photographs were widely praised for their striking aesthetic richness, critics accused her of dehumanizing her subjects and awakening memories of her earlier work.

Riefenstahl took up diving at the age of 71 - telling her instructor she was 20 years younger - and launched a new phase of her career documenting life in the seas of the Indian Ocean based on some 2,000 dives over 25 years.