New to research at the Harvard Film Archive and Harvard Library? Click here for our detailed guide to accessing materials, including tips for searching within Harvard Library's collections databases, instructions on how to set up research appointments, and FAQs.

Research Policies at a Glance

  • 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.

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 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. 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 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.

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.

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.

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