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Berlinale: Seventy-One Years of Golden Bear Winners

The Golden Bear is the Cadillac of motion picture awards. It is the German Oscar. At the same time, it is its opposite. Two months ahead of the next Berlinale, these are some of the winners of the past.

Berlin, January 12th, 2020, update December 15th, 2022 (The Berlin Spectator) — As it turns out, the Bear is not into American movies so much anymore. When the new millennium dawned, Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Magnolia’ got the Berlinale International Film Festival’s main award. It was the last American film to be awarded a Golden Bear. Why should the Berlinale be some kind of an ‘Academy Awards Light’ show?

The Right Remedy

In a way, Hollywood’s influence ends in Berlin. But this was not always the case. In 1951, six years after Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender, a flick like ‘Cinderella’ was just the right remedy against terrible memories of air raids, death, genocide and destruction. Andy Signore and Brett Weiner created this cartoon musical, one of the first movies to get a Golden Bear.

During the first edition of the Berlinale, that same year, it was a German jury that awarded films in five rubrics. From 1952 to 1955, audience votes decided. Since 1956, an international jury gives out the Golden Bears. One is for the best film. An Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievements was added in 1982.

‘The Ascent’ is a Soviet Golden Bear winner.

In the past 40 years, Honorary Golden Bears were given out to people like James Stewart, Dustin Hoffman, Oliver Stone, Sophia Loren, Alain Delon, Catherine Deneuve, Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, Kirk Douglas, Robert Altman, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Lemmon, Meryl Streep, Michael Ballhaus, Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Rampling and Helen Mirren, just to name a few. In 2023, Steven Spielberg will finally get his Bear.

Across Iron Curtain

In the past six decades, some stunning motion pictures got Golden Bears. ’12 Angry Men’, the mother of all courtroom dramas released in 1957, is on that list. So is Roman Polanski’s legendary ‘Cul-de-sac’. The Golden Bear is definitely political, at times. In the middle of the Cold War, the Berlinale jury in West Berlin awarded it to the Soviet drama ‘The Ascent’ directed by Larisa Shepitko.

Richard Pearce’s flick ‘Heartland’ got a Bear in 1980. Because of a tie in the jury’s vote, there was a second Golden Bear winner that year, namely ‘Palermo or Wolfsburg’, a German production about an Italian Gastarbeiter. In 1985, an East German movie, ‘The Woman and the Stranger’, was awarded. So was ‘Rainman’ by Barry Levinson, in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall finally fell.

Both Kim Novak and James Stewart (picture from Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’) got Golden Bears for their lifetime achievements. Photo: Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions

In the 1990s, twelve regular Golden Bears were distributed. ‘Central do Brasil’, also known as ‘Central Station’, a colorful Brazilian drama by Fernanda Montenegro and Vinícius de Oliveira was awarded in 1998. That decade also saw Golden Bear winners like ‘The People vs. Larry Flynt’ by Miloš Forman and ‘A Thin Red Line’, Terrence Malick’s war drama based on the 1962 novel by James Jones.

Berlinale Split Up

Since this millennium commenced, the British-Irish drama ‘Bloody Sunday’ was among the Berlinale winners. So was ‘Grbavica’, a Bosnian drama by Jasmila Žbanić that tells the story of a Bosnian single mother after the war. Laura Benson created ‘Touch Me Not’ about prejudice related to intimacy. This Bulgarian, Romanian, French, Czech and German co-production got a Golden Bear.

Cinderella got a Golden Bear.

The 70th Berlinale took place shortly before Corona messed up the world. Now, the 71st edition was postponed and split into two parts. On February 16th, 2023, the 73rd edition is scheduled to commence. It is supposed to include everything again, including the mess on the red carpet. None other than the American (!) Hollywood star Kristen Stewart will be heading the Berlinale Jury this time.

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