The festival was created in 1954 by Jesus Miller who named it the International Cinematographic Festival (Festival Cinematográfico Internacional). It was not a competitive festival but a showcase of the best international films from all over the world. In the early years, the film festival in Mar del Plata was attended by famous international guests such as Errol Flynn (Australia/USA), Edward G. Robinson (USA), Gina Lollobrigida (Italy), and Mary Pickford (Canada/USA).
In 1959 the Argentine Film Critics Association (Asociación de Cronistas Cinematográficos de la Argentina) took charge of running the festival. It is during this time that the FIAPF recognized and approved the festival for the first time. In 1964, the festival was renamed to the International Cinematographic Festival of the Argentine Republic and moved to Buenos Aires. It began to decline after the 1966 coup d’etat in Brazil and was finally canceled in 1970. There were some attempts to relaunch it in subsequent years, but they failed.
The festival returned in 1996 and has been held every year since then. From 2008 onwards it takes place every November. In the 2000s, the FIAPF gave it competitive status, making the Mar del Plata International Film Festival the first and only A-list film festival in Latin America and one of the most respected international film festivals.
The main award of the festival was originally called Ombú after Phytolacca dioica, a massive evergreen tree which is considered a symbol of Argentina and Uruguay. In 2004 its name was changed to Astor in honor of renowned Argentine tango composer, arranger and musician Astor Piazzolla. The award is given to the best film in the festival’s international competition. The first film to win the main prize at the renewed festival was Pilar Miró’s El perro del hortelano (Spain).
Another award given at the festival was named after Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The Ernesto Che Guevara Award is awarded to the best Latin American Film. Additional awards are given in several categories such as Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Script, and several categories for Argentine films.