Berlin International Film Festival: Winners, History, and Importance

Germany's Most Prestigious Film Festival

Berlin's Potsdamer Platz during the 2019 Berlin Film Festival
A poster depicting the logo of the Berlin Film Festival is pictured at the Potsdamer Platz during the 69th Berlinale film festival on February 15, 2019 in Berlin. (Photo by JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP).

JOHN MACDOUGALL / Getty Images

The Berlin International Film Festival is an annual film festival held in Germany in February. Since its inception in 1951 in West Berlin, it has become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, and is now the highest-attended event of its kind. Filmmakers consider the festival's top award, the Golden Bear, one of the highest honors in cinema, and many films that won Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, and other major honors have also won awards at the festival.

Did You Know?

330,000 tickets were sold to screenings during the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival.

Founding and Location

Six years after the end of World War II, the first edition of the Berlin International Film Festival (also called the Berlinale) was held in then-West Berlin. It was primarily organized by Americans who were living in the country. The festival has been held annually ever since, although it moved from its original summer dates to February in 1978. At the same time that Berlinale is held, a corresponding event called The European Film Market trade fair is also held, in which films and their distribution rights are bought and sold by producers and production companies. The European Film Market also features screenings, making Berlinale and its connected events Berlin's largest annual arts festival.

The festival's primary awards, including the Golden Bear and Silver Bears in several categories, are voted on by a six-member international jury comprised of a variety of globally-renowned artists. There are other juries for specific awards, including a children's jury (comprised of 11- to 14-year-old members) which awards Crystal Bears to the best children's films.

Actors Victor Sjostrom and Bibi Andersson in a scene from Ingmar Bergman's 1959 film 'Wild Strawberries'
Swedish actors Victor Sjostrom and Bibi Andersson on the set of Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries / Les Fraises Sauvages), written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Sunset Boulevard / Getty Images

Notable Winners

Since its inaugural 1951 program, the Berlin International Film Festival has featured a number of films that won major awards at Berlin and later went on to gain more recognition and success. This is a partial list of some of the festival's most notable winners:

1951 Golden Bear Music Film: Cinderella

The inaugural Berlin International Film Festival awarded five Golden Bear awards for different genre categories. Winning in the "Music Film" category was Cinderella, which was produced by Walt Disney. It also won the festival's Bronze Plate Award for winning the audience vote. The animated classic has gone to be recognized as one of Disney's most iconic productions. Cinderella also won three Academy Awards.

1957 Golden Bear: 12 Angry Men

American Sidney Lumet directed this film adaptation of a television play about 12 jurors who are deadlocked in their decision in a murder case, which has since been recognized by critics as one of the greatest courtroom dramas of all time. 12 Angry Men was also nominated for three Academy Awards.

1958 Golden Bear: Wild Strawberries

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman both directed and wrote this drama about an elderly college professor who reflects on his past life and decisions while traveling to receive an accolade for his career. It was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Screenplay, but Bergman declined the nomination claiming that the Academy was a "humiliating institution" (though Bergman would later win three Oscars for different films).

1959 Silver Bear for Best Director: The Hidden Fortress

Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa directed and co-wrote this adventure film starring his frequent collaborator Toshiro Mifune. The Hidden Fortress was one of the most influential films of Kurosawa's career and, in particular, had a significant influence on George Lucas' screenplay for Star Wars.

1960 Silver Bear for Best Director: Breathless

French filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard's crime drama Breathless (À bout de souffle), became a landmark film in the French New Wave cinematic movement.

1976 Golden Bear: Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson

American filmmaker Robert Altman was a favorite of major European film festivals, and Berlin was no exception. Altman's 1976 revisionist Western film, Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, did not win any other major awards but is one of star Paul Newman's most unconventional performances.

1984 Golden Bear: Love Streams

American filmmaker John Cassavetes directed and co-wrote this drama about middle-aged siblings facing personal challenges. Love Streams also tied for the festival's FIPRESCI Prize, presented by the International Federation of Film Critics.

1987 Silver Bear for Best Director: Platoon

American filmmaker Oliver Stone wrote and directed this war drama about his experiences in the Vietnam War. Platoon was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture and Best Director.

1998 Silver Bear for Best Director: Moonstruck

American director Norman Jewison won the Silver Bear for Best Director for Moonstruck, a romantic comedy starring Cher as a widow who is in the awkward position of being in love with her fiance's younger brother. In addition to being a box office hit, it won three Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Cher.

1989 Golden Bear: Rain Man

After winning four Academy Awards earlier in the year (including Best Picture), American director Barry Levinson's drama Rain Man went on to win the Golden Bear. Star Dustin Hoffman also received an Honorary Golden Bear that year for career achievement.

1991 Silver Bear for Best Director: The Silence Of The Lambs (tie)

Director Jonathan Demme won the Silver Bear for Best Director for the psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs, which also won five Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director).

1994 Golden Bear: In the Name of the Father

Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan co-wrote and directed this film depicting the true story of the court proceedings involving four wrongfully convicted people in a series of bombings in English pubs. In the Name of the Father was nominated for seven Academy Awards and two BAFTA Awards.

1995 Silver Bear for Best Director: Before Sunrise

American filmmaker Richard Linklater won the Silver Bear for Before Sunrise, a critically-acclaimed romantic drama starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

1996 Golden Bear: Sense and Sensibility

Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee directed this adaptation of Jane Austen's novel featuring Emma Thompson as both lead actress and screenwriter. Thompson won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Sense and Sensibility received three BAFTA Awards, including Best Film.

1997 Golden Bear: The People vs. Larry Flynt

The People vs. Larry Flynt, a biopic about pornographic publisher Larry Flynt and his various First Amendment legal battles, was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Actor for star Woody Harrelson.

1997 Silver Bear for Best Actor: Romeo + Juliet

Director Baz Luhrmann's modernized adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet won two awards at the 1997 Berlin International Film Festival: the Silver Bear for Best Actor for star Leonardo DiCaprio and the Alfred Bauer Prize (named after the festival's founder and awarded for opening "new perspectives on cinematic art").

1998 Special Jury Prize: Wag the Dog

Director Barry Levinson's political black comedy Wag the Dog was also nominated for two Academy Awards.

1999 Golden Bear: The Thin Red Line

Filmmaker Terrence Malick's first film in two decades, the war drama The Thin Red Line, won the Golden Bear at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival and also received an Honorable Mention for cinematographer John Toll. The Thin Red Line was also nominated for seven Academy Awards.

2000 Golden Bear: Magnolia

American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed Magnolia, an ensemble drama film that was also nominated for three Academy Awards.

2002 Golden Bear: Spirited Away (tie)

Spirited Away, written and directed by Japanese animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, became the first animated film to win the Golden Bear (which was shared that year with Bloody Sunday). It also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

2003 Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear: Adaptation

American director Spike Jonze's one-of-a-kind film about a screenwriter having difficulty adapting a non-fiction book, Adaptation, became a critical hit. It also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Chris Cooper.

2003 Alfred Bauer Prize: Hero

Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou co-wrote and directed the historical martial arts film, Hero, starring Jet Li. It became an international box office hit and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

2008 Silver Bear for Best Director: There Will Be Blood

American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood, about a ruthless early 20th century oil tycoon, won international acclaim and two Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis.

2011 Golden Bear: A Separation

The Iranian drama A Separation, which was written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, broke ground by not only being the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear, but for also winning the Silver Bears for Best Actor and Best Actress. In an unprecedented achievement, the Silver Bears were awarded to each member of its primary cast. A Separation also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

2014 Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: The Grand Budapest Hotel

American filmmaker Wes Anderson's ensemble comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. It was also nominated for nine Academy Awards, winning four.

2014 Silver Bear for Best Director: Boyhood

American filmmaker Richard Linklater won his second Silver Bear for Best Director for Boyhood, a coming-of-age film shot over 12 years. It also won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Patricia Arquette.

2018 Silver Bear for Best Director: Isle of Dogs

American filmmaker Wes Anderson won the Silver Bear for Best Director for the stop-motion animated film Isle of Dogs. It was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.