- Harvard Film Archive collections are open to all adult researchers regardless of academic affiliation.
- Film prints are accessible by advanced appointment only and in close consultation with HFA staff.
- Paper collections are accessible at the Houghton Library Reading Room.
- The Harvard Film Archive’s cinematheque presents films Friday through Monday nights year round. Open to the public, all screenings are held in the Archive's 200-seat theater featuring state-of-the-art film and digital projection located in the historic Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.
- Click here to access our public screening calendar.
What's In the HFA Collection?
The Harvard Film Archive has 36,000+ titles in the collection from around the world and from almost every period in film history. Collection strengths lie in national cinemas, including films from the U.S., France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Ukraine, Taiwan, and Argentina; American studio and independent features; American, European, and Japanese experimental film; experimental animation; ethnographic film; short and feature documentary; and diary film. In addition to feature films and art films, the collection contains many examples of non-theatrical, or "useful" cinema, which covers a range of motion picture history outside the classic category of theatrical fiction film, such as educational and industrial shorts on many topics, home movies, newsreels, and government films. Non-moving image collections include a wide range of promotional materials including film stills, posters, and other flat graphics, as well as a number of manuscript collections documenting the work of individual filmmakers such as Godfrey Reggio, Anne Charlotte Robertson, Warren Sonbert, Hollis Frampton, Robert Gardner, Suzan Pitt, and Caroline Leaf.
How Do I Find Items in the HFA Collection?
Researchers can use Harvard Library's catalog, HOLLIS, to search for specific film, video, and audio items by title, creator, or through keyword searching. Finding aids, which provide detailed descriptions of archival materials, can be searched via HOLLIS Archival Discovery.
HOLLIS Search Tips for HFA Collections
HOLLIS contains physical and digital content from across the Harvard Library system. To search content only from the Harvard Film Archive collections in this system, you must limit your search in two ways. In the "Advanced Search" option of HOLLIS, search for materials in the Library Catalog and limit your search scope to Harvard Film Archive, as illustrated in the image below
To browse all content from the Harvard Film Archive collections in this system, start with this search.
Hollis for Archival Discovery Tips for HFA Collections
HOLLIS for Archival Discovery contains finding aids, which provide detailed descriptions of archival materials, from across the Harvard Library Special Collections, searchable by title, author, or keywords. To search content only from the Harvard Film Archive finding aids in the system, start with this search.
To browse all finding aids available from the Harvard Film Archive, click here.
Who Has Access to the Collection?
Harvard Film Archive collections are open to all adult researchers regardless of academic affiliation. Anyone conducting academic research is welcome to make an appointment. While you do not need to be affiliated with a university or professional organization, you do need to have a valid research project. Writing a book, article, essay, dissertation, or paper; and directing or producing a visual research project are all valid projects. If you are not sure if your idea qualifies, please submit a request form and ask.
Requests to view audiovisual materials must be submitted at least ten business days before your proposed visit date to allow HFA staff sufficient time to retrieve prints from the vaults and prepare them for viewing. All of our materials are stored off-site and must be shipped in specifically for your appointment. A ten business day lead allows time to condition and properly pack materials, ensuring the safety of the film and videotape stocks, and helps balance the workload and retrieval schedules of our extremely busy collections staff. As a result, requests for materials received less than ten business days in advance cannot be accommodated.
- Access to prints is limited to titles that are not available on video or online. For guidance on conducting film research at Harvard, including locating DVDs and streaming video or getting access to DVD material via interlibrary loan, please reference this guide.
- Viewing appointments are booked on a first-come, first-served basis, and should be made as far in advance as possible. Researchers with limited schedules or those coming from out of town to view materials are strongly advised to reserve an appointment prior to finalizing travel arrangements.
- Requests are granted at the discretion of the HFA Collections staff and are not guaranteed. Researchers may need to obtain advance permission from donors or depositors for access to restricted collections. Staff may also restrict access to materials on teh basis of physical condition, preservation status, or other considerations.
Requests for paper materials must be submitted via a HOLLIS Special Request Account at least one business day in advance by 4pm. All HFA paper collections are stored off-site and must be retrieved specifically for your appointment.
- Do I have to make an appointment 10 business days in advance? How strict is this rule?
- Yes, and this rule is strictly enforced.
- I do not live in the area. Can I borrow or purchase a DVD or digital copy of an item in your collection?
- No. You must make an appointment to visit the HFA to view moving image works from the film collection.
- I do not live in the area. Can the HFA staff conduct research on my behalf?
- Due to the high volume of requests our small staff receives, we cannot offer the service of consulting material or making photocopies on behalf of researchers. If you cannot visit, you are welcome to send a proxy in your stead.
- I see that the HFA cinematheque screened a particular print in a program last year. Can I watch it at the HFA?
Maybe, depending on the title. Only films and videos that are part of the HFA collection are available for viewing on site. Many films are screened here on loan from outside sources and are returned when the program ends, much the same way the Harvard Art Museum will temporarily borrow a painting from another museum. To find out if a particular film is available, please inquire.
- Do you license footage from the collection?
As our database is not designed to accommodate stock footage requests, we strongly suggest you exhaust all other avenues before asking us for footage. If the footage you need exists only at the HFA, staff will review your request. Understand that the majority of our film holdings exist on film only. The digitization process can take months to complete, depending on the condition of the materials and lab availability, which usually does not suit a production timeline. In most cases the HFA is not the copyright holder and you will need to provide proof that you have cleared all rights issues with the copyright owners before we can make materials available to you.
Resource Links Outside of Harvard
How Do I Make an Appointment to View Audiovisual Materials?
The Harvard Film Archive's audiovisual materials are accessed by appointment only at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts or the Harvard Library Film Conservation Lab. Viewings take place on-site only, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and must be arranged at least ten business days in advance.
If condition allows, prints from the collection may be viewed on a flatbed viewer or in the HFA's theater. Most video and audio material must be reformatted prior to access which can take 4-6 weeks. In some cases, preservation concerns will require us to reformat film material prior to viewing or to restrict access to certain materials.
To submit a request, please email the following information to the HFA's Collections Archivist:
- Full name and contact information
- A short description of your research project
- Prioritized list of titles essential to your project, including HOLLIS links or HFA item numbers if possible
- Proposed dates of visit
Harvard University welcomes individuals with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. Facilities for research viewing are accessible, but if you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please include that in your request.
- Food and drink are not allowed in the viewing rooms
- Researchers are welcome to bring pencils, laptops, tablets, phones (in silent mode) to assist in their research
- Video cameras and other recording devices are prohibited. Recording of moving image material is not allowed
- You may shoot low-resolution stills for reference purposes only ; however, if you want to publish screen shots you must obtain the written permission of any and all copyright holders as well as the Harvard Film Archive.
Reproduction & Loan Requests
Prints from the HFA collection are regularly loaned to FIAF-member motion picture archives and other venues that meet the HFA’s strict requirements for the professional care, handling, and projection of archival films. All archival loan inquiries should be directed to Mark Johnson, HFA Collections Manager, and should be made at least four weeks in advance of screening date. Print sources are listed in the individual film and program descriptions on our website.
Screenings & Events
Month at-a-glance Calendar
The Film Archive hosts many screenings every week. Check our calendar to see what's coming up next.
About The Harvard Film Archive
A division of Harvard Library, the Harvard Film Archive is one of the largest and most significant university-based motion picture collections in the United States, with a collection of well over 36,000 audio visual items from around the world and from almost every period in film history. The HFA supports the research and study of cinema at Harvard by making films from its collection available for study purposes, for individual viewing appointments and for classroom screenings. The HFA's collection of film and video material, as well as its many posters, documents and ephemera are accessible to faculty and students at Harvard, as well as to outside researchers, through our academic research services.
Established with the assistance of the Luce Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1979, the Harvard Film Archive has grown into an incomparably rich resource for scholars and filmmakers. The HFA is a member of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF).
The Harvard Film Archive’s cinematheque presents films Friday through Monday nights year round and frequently invited filmmakers to discuss their work and engage with the vibrant community of students, professors, artists and cinephiles who regularly attend Archive screenings. Open to the public, all screenings are held in the Archive's 200-seat theater featuring state-of-the-art film and digital projection located in the historic Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.