New to archival research at the Harvard Library? Click here for a detailed guide to finding and accessing materials for personal research and teaching within Harvard Library's Special Collections and Archives, as well as a guide for Visting Researchers.

Research Policies at a Glance

  • Harvard Film Archive collections are open to all researchers regardless of academic affiliation.
  • Film prints are accessible by advanced appointment only and in close consultation with HFA staff.
  • Select items are available for remote digital access.
  • Paper collections are accessible at the Houghton Library Reading Room.

Who Has Access to the Collection?

Harvard Film Archive collections are open to all 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. If you are not sure if your idea qualifies, please submit a request 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 and prepare prints and to schedule your viewing. Collections are stored off-site and must be shipped in specifically for your appointment. To maintain our rigorous preservation standards, advanced scheduling allows staff to safely transport and inspect materials closely prior to viewing. In addition, our viewing spaces are shared with colleagues in the AFVS department and must be carefully scheduled. 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, with exceptions granted at the discretion of HFA staff
  • 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. Additionally, the Film Study Library, located on the fourth floor of Sever Hall, has a large, non-circulating collection of DVDs and videos, including many rare titles. The library also houses viewing facilities.
  • 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 the 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.

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. 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, film 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.

How Do I Make An Appointment to Access Paper Materials?

The Harvard Film Archive's manuscript collections and paper-based materials are accessed through the Houghton Library Reading Room.

Please reference this guide to learn about Houghton's specific policies for use and to read guidelines for requesting materials prior to planning your visit. If you are new to researching with primary materials, start with the How To guide on using Harvard's Special Collections and Archives for a primer.

If you have questions regarding access to HFA paper materials at Houghton Library after reading through the guides, please contact the HFA Collection Archivist.

Access FAQs

Do I have to make an appointment 10 business days in advance? How strict is this rule?

Yes, and this rule is strictly enforced.

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. In limited cases streaming digital copies are made available for research use.

I do not live in the area. Can I request digital streaming copies of audiovisual materials for remote research?

It depends. Many materials in the HFA's Exhibition Collections are available via streaming or DVD elsewhere, so please check first for copies in alternate formats. Materials in the HFA's Artists' Collections are typically not available for digital streaming, particularly materials intended by their creators for viewing in their original formats in specific physical spaces. In the case of unique Research Collections, we do strive to provide digital access when legal and ethical guidelines permit. In all cases, requests are granted at the discretion of the HFA Collections staff and are not guaranteed. The reformatting process can take many months and your request will be placed in a queue. In some cases, reformatting fees will be charged. For research use, researchers are required to sign a Use Agreement and do not receive copies of files but will be given a specific time window for secure streaming access.

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 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 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?

Staffing levels do not allow us to provide stock footage research or fulfill broad stock footage requests.

If the footage you need exists only at the HFA, staff will review your request. In most cases the HFA is not the copyright holder and you will be required to provide proof that you have cleared all rights issues with the copyright owners before we can make materials available to you. The majority of the HFA collections are not in a digital format, and the reformatting process can take many months depending on the condition of the materials and lab availability, which usually does not suit a production timeline. Reformatting fees will be charged for licensing requests.

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