Berlin Film Festival Founder's Nazi Past Casts Shadow Over 2020 Edition

ONE TIME USE ONLY - Alfred Bauer and Sophia Loren - Getty -H 2020
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Revelations about Alfred? Bauer, who ran the Berlinale from 1951 to 1976, indicate he was an enthusiastic follower of Adolf Hitler's — putting the event's egalitarian origins in a new light.

The 70th anniversary of the Berlin International Film Festival should be a cause for celebration. But recent revelations about the festival's first director, Dr. Alfred Bauer, are casting a dark shadow over this year's festivities.

Bauer, a film historian who ran the Berlinale from its start in 1951 through 1976, has long been held up as a symbol of the Berlinale's core values of openness, tolerance and the embrace of the other. Since his death in 1986, Berlin has awarded the Alfred Bauer Prize in his honor, recognizing work that "opens new perspectives on cinematic art." Baz Luhrmann won the Alfred Bauer for Romeo + Juliet in 1997, Zhang Yimou won in 2003 for Hero, and Polish dissident director Andrzej Wajda won in 2009 for Sweet Rush.

But new revelations, first reported in German newspaper Die Zeit on Jan. 29, show that Bauer was not what he appeared to be. Documents from the early 1940s indicate the "film historian" was an active and enthusiastic member of the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler and was a high-ranking member of the Reichsfilmintendanz, the film division of the Nazi propaganda ministry. During Bauer's time there, the division authorized such films as Veit Harlan's Kolberg (1945), a war drama meant to encourage the German population to fight the Allies to the last man. A Nazi file on Bauer calls him a "devoted" member of the Sturmabteilung, the Nazi Party's original paramilitary wing.

After the war, Bauer was initially designated with an employment ban, part of the Allies' "denazification" process. But when Oscar Martay, a film officer of the U.S. Army stationed in Berlin, persuaded the American military to fund the first Berlin Film Festival in 1951, Bauer was asked to run it. The official history of the Berlinale has always portrayed the festival, launched at the height of the Cold War, as a "window to the free world" for the countries of communist Eastern Europe. Bauer's history now casts this interpretation in a new light.

"It is a paradox of history that I and my late friend and mentor Andrzej Wajda — who was part of the Polish underground resistance during World War II — should have received an award in Berlin that carries Bauer's name," says Polish director Agnieszka Holland, the Alfred Bauer Prize winner in 2017 for Spoor. "The real question is: How many skeletons are still in the closet?"

On Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Berlin Festival announced it was canceling the Alfred Bauer Prize and would replace it this year with a special Silver Bear - 70th Berlinale award in honor of the festival's 70th anniversary. The Berlinale said, after talks with various research institutions, it has commissioned the Munich-based Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ) to carry out an independent investigation into Bauer's past.

“We are convinced that an external and independent group of historians should investigate Alfred Bauer’s position in the Nazi regime,” said Berlinale executive director Mariette Rissenbeek. "Accordingly, we are pleased that the IfZ can now initiate the necessary research work."

The IfZ's report is expected by the summer.

A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.