After the end of the Second World War Oscar Martay was Film Officer of the American military administration in Germany. To this day, he is considered the initiator of the Berlin International Film Festival.
Born on August 22, 1920, Martay came to Berlin in 1948 to work as Film Officer for the American military administration. His tasks included the authorisation and supervision of the activities of German film producers. He also had considerable influence over the operations of cinemas in Berlin. Using unconventional methods, he made sure in the immediate post-war years that Berlin copying facilities received the material they needed to dub foreign movies. He also organised special low-price screenings for residents of East Berlin. For as long as East Berliners could still cross the sector borders, Martay put on screenings for them in more than 20 cinemas near the borders to the East, from the Titania-Palast in Steglitz to the Waldbühne, which belonged to the first venues of the Berlinale.
From 1950, Martay pushed for the founding of the Berlin International Film Festival and created a committee comprised of himself, his British colleague George Turner and seven representatives of the German film industry and the Berlin Senate. The committee met for the first time on October 9, 1950. Thanks to Martay’s influence the American military administration helped the festival cover its costs with loans during the early years of the Berlinale.
In 1953 Oscar Martay quit his post in the US State Department and began to work for the Berlin production company Berolina-Film. In 1955 he married the German actress Renate Barken and decided to remain in Germany. After being involved in different ways in several German productions – Martay appears in the production credits of many post-war films – his wife and he founded their own production company, Zenith Film, with which they together produced countless features and short films till the mid-1990s. After many years of illness, Oscar Martay died in Berlin on October 31, 1995.
At the first Berlinale in 1951 Oscar Martay was awarded a Golden Bear for the effort he put into founding the festival.
In 1976, the German government awarded him the Federal Cross of Merit for his many years of service to culture and international understanding.