Berlinale: Yearbook

1st Berlin International Film Festival
June 6 - 17, 1951

In September 2020, an external academic study by the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History confirmed the allegations first made public in January 2020 that the role played by Berlinale founding director Alfred Bauer in the Reichsfilmintendanz (Reich Film Office) during Nazi times was more substantial than had previously been realised and was systematically covered up by Bauer after 1945. The festival made public how it is dealing with these findings and the associated responsibility in a press release on September 30, 2020 and published a detailed statement in the summer of 2021. The Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize was suspended for the 2020 festival and will henceforth no longer be awarded.

A parade of flowers to mark the opening of the first ever Berlinale.

The beginnings

Upon the initiative of American Film Officer Oscar Martay, a committee meets for the first time on October 9,1950 to prepare for the founding of an international film festival in Berlin. Besides Martay and his British colleague George Turner, the committee includes two representatives of the Berlin Senate Administration, four representatives of the German film industry and a journalist. At this meeting the dates of the first festival (June 6-17, 1951; awards ceremony on June 18) and the name “Berlin International Film Festival” are agreed on.

The film historian Dr. Alfred Bauer is appointed festival director. In the 1940s he worked for the Reichsfilmkammer (Reich Film Office) and advised the British military government on film issues after the end of the war. In November 1950 he began to work for the International Film Festival.

Political Significance

On June 6, 1951 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca opens the first Berlin International Film Festival (which had already been dubbed the “Berlinale”) in the Titania-Palast cinema. The star of the film, Joan Fontaine, is also the celebrated star guest of the festival. Six years after the end of the Second World War, large parts of Berlin still lie in ruins. Reconstruction has begun, but Berlin is still far from reviving the cultural energy of the 1920s. Under these conditions the film festival and its international guests fulfill the city’s yearning for attention and recognition. At the same time the festival is intended to make a political statement and serve as a “showcase of the free world” in the divided city.

© Filmmuseum Berlin
Joan Fontaine in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

The “Berlinale” is a big hit with the public. The festival ceremony takes place in the sold-out outdoor arena the “Waldbühne” – the final evening is celebrated with a huge firework display. The main prizes of the festival, the “Berlin Bears” are awarded in the categories “dramatic films”, “comedies”, “crime and adventure films”, “musical films” and “documentary films”. In the first year the prize winners are chosen by an expert jury of exclusively German members. The audience also elects its favourite film: Disney’s Cinderella. Under pressure from the FIAPF (Federation Internationale des Associations des Producteurs de Films), it is decided that all prizes will be chosen by the audience starting the following year, because the awarding of prizes by an expert jury is reserved for so-called A-festivals. The Berlinale still had to earn this title.

All in all, the Berlinale gets off to a good start. The international response is positive and the enthusiasm of the audience transcends anyone’s expectations. Criticism is only heard from the east of the city, where the policy of categorically barring any films from socialist countries from taking part in the Berlinale is seen as proof that the festival is not really “international” as its name suggests. All the same, residents of East Berlin can visit the film festival, because the sector boundaries can still be freely crossed. Cheaper screenings are shown for East Berliners in the Corso cinema in the district of Wedding and thousands take advantage of this special offer.