"All film festivals should contribute to better understanding between nations and support development of the art of film and the film industry."
(From the guidelines for international film festivals of the FIAPF / Fédération Internationale des Associations de Producteurs de Films.)
A parade of flowers to mark the opening of the first ever Berlinale.
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.
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.
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.