The Berlinale

Berlin’s International Film Festival

The Berlin International Film Festival, also known as the Berlinale, takes place in February. The 68th Berlinale is scheduled from February 15 to 25, 2018. Generally ranked number two in the world after Cannes, the Berlin festival features over 400 films, 300,000 sold tickets, and nearly 20,000 professional visitors from 124 countries. In 2000 the 50th Berlinale moved to the new Berlinale Palast at the Potsdamer Platz complex for the first time.


The Berlinale Palast on Marlene-Dietrich-Platz has been the main venue for the Berlinale since 2000. The 58th Berlinale (Feb. 7-17, 2008), pictured above, opened with Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones documentary Shine a Light. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

First established in 1951, the Berlin International Film Festival, also known as the Berlinale, has evolved over the years to become one of the most important international film festivals. On June 6, 1951 Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, starring Joan Fontaine and Gary Grant, opened the first Berlin International Film Festival (already dubbed the “Berlinale”) in the Titania-Palast cinema. With much of Berlin still in ruins from the recent war, Fontaine came to Berlin as the festival’s first “star guest.”


Leonardo Dicaprio is interviewed by Berlin’s RBB TV at the 2010 Berlinale. PHOTO: RBB Television

In the early years the Berlinale struggled to survive in difficult postwar conditions. German films in particular had a hard time gaining favor with the public or the press. It would be 1955 before a German film won the German festival’s top prize. Robert Siodmak’s adaption of Hauptmann’s Die Ratten (The Rats), starring a young Maria Schell, was voted the best film by the audience. (Until 1956, the Berlinale was prohibited by the international film body FIAPF from having a jury. That was reserved only for Cannes and Venice.) Another problem was the east/west division of Germany and Berlin. Although there was no Berlin Wall until 1961, the German film industry was already split by the Cold War.

American Influence
Not many people know that the biggest German film festival came about through the efforts of an American. Oscar Martay (1920-1995) was a “film officer” with the US Army in Berlin. It was at his suggestion that a committee met on October 9, 1950 to set up the Berlin International Film Festival. Martay also used his influence to push the American military administration to help fund the festival with loans during the initial years of the Berlinale. He was one of the first recipients of the festival’s now-famous Golden Bear award in 1951 for his efforts. After leaving the army Martay stayed in Germany, working in film production. He married German actress Renate Barken in 1955.

Zoo Palast Kino - Berlin

The old Zoo Palast Kino in West Berlin was the main Berlinale venue from 1957 until 2000. Following a major renovation in 2014, seen here, the cinema again became a key location for the Berlinale. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

The Zoo Palast
In 1957 the Berlinale got a brand new festival venue: The Zoo Palast Kino across from the Zoologischer Garten train station became the large inner city festival cinema in West Berlin. The Zoo Palast would remain the Berlinale’s central location until the festival’s move to Potsdamer Platz in 2000. But political and financial strains were weakening the Berlinale. It was a problem that Alfred Bauer (1911-1986), the director of the Berlinale until 1976, always dealt with.

Although it began as a summertime festival, since 1978 the Berlinale has taken place in February. The festival is now considered the world’s largest by attendance. Although it is often difficult to get tickets for certain films, most of the Berlin festival’s screenings are open to the public.


The Berlinale red carpet is almost impossible to see unless you are either a star or an official photographer. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

In 2002 the Berlinale welcomed a brand new director and a new direction. Although Dieter Kosslick wanted to stress continuity in his first year and not immediately do everything differently from his predecessor Moritz de Hadeln, there were changes. The Berlinale has always undergone some change, but under Kosslick Hollywood has taken more of a back seat to allow more emphasis on German and international cinema. Various Berlinale events help develop new German cinema talent and encourage filmmakers to be more creative.

Over the next few years, partly because of the first Gulf War and September 11, 2001, the festival took on a more political tone. In accepting her award for lifetime achievement, Anouk Aimé commented: “I’m a part of Old Europe.” — a pointed reference to a phrase that had been uttered by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The 2008 Berlinale introduced another first: A documentary film, Martin Scorsese’s filming of a Rolling Stones concert Shine a Light, opened the festival.

For the Berlinale’s 60th anniversary in 2010, the International Jury was headed by Werner Herzog, one of the most significant personalities of New German Cinema. The Golden Bear for Best Film went to the Turkish film Bal (Honey) by Semih Kaplanoglu. A Silver Bear for Best Director went to Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer, but the film’s producers Alain Sarde and Robert Benmussa had to accept for Polanski, who was under house arrest in Switzerland because of US rape charges dating back 30 years.

In conjunction with the 60th Berlinale, the city of Berlin unveiled its new Boulevard of the Stars with the unveiling of the first of 40 planned stars devoted to actors and filmmakers from the German-speaking film and TV industry. The very first star for Berlin’s walk of fame honored the German-American actress Marlene Dietrich. See the blog post “Marlene Dietrich stars in Berlin” for more.

The 62nd Berlinale in 2012 helped celebrate the 100th birthday of the world’s oldest continuously running film studio. Known as Studio Babelsberg today, the former Ufa studio near Berlin made its first motion picture on February 12, 1912. A series of 10 classic films made at Babelsberg were featured in February 2012.

The 2013, 63rd Berlinale ran from February 7 to 17 and featured 24 films in competition, 19 of which were eligible for the festival’s top awards, the Gold and Silver Bears. Prominent Hollywood stars such as Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Isabella Rossellini attended. A special feature for 2013 was the last film that River Phoenix made, Dark Blood. Phoenix died in 1993 at the age of 23 while filming for Dark Blood was in progress. Two years ago, Dutch director George Sluizer decided to complete the film, which was only about 80 percent done when Phoenix died. Berlinale attendees learned how he did that when the out-of-competition film screened in Berlin. The 63rd Berlinale featured hundreds of films from Germany and many other countries, including Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Hong Kong/China, Russia, Spain, South Africa and the USA.

Recent Berlinale Highlights
• 2015: Iranian director Jafar Panahi, banned by his government, won a Golden Bear for his film Taxi
• 2015: No Bears for US cinema, which had a rather weak showing in all sections
• 2015: British actors Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay received Silver Bears for 45 Years
• 2014: In a new three-year deal, Audi replaced BMW as the festival’s car fleet provider
• 2014: George Clooney’s The Monuments Men had its international premiere at the Berlinale
• 2014: Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel opened the 64th Berlinale
• 2014: A digital restored version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) premiered

See the official Berlinale site for current information about the latest Berlinale.

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