Visit to the vault: UC Berkeley’s film collection is vast and rare

Rows of colorful metal cans of film line the shelving in the football field-sized vault in the Richmond Field Station that belongs to the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

The BAMPFA vault contains countless reels including Japanese, Soviet silent, West Coast independent and avant-garde films, rare animation, Eastern European and Central Asian productions and international classics. (UC Berkeley photo by Neil Freese)

Vaults often store valuables, and that’s especially true of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s massive vault in Richmond. Hidden within an industrial complex, the climate-controlled facility, which looks the size of a football field, contains more than 18,000 films and videos from around the world, many of them rare and most of them donated, as well as recorded interviews with filmmakers, screenplays, posters and other ephemera related to the history of film. The vast archival collection is one of the largest of its kind in the Bay Area.

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Some of the vault’s rarely-viewed reels, stored among thousands of stacked metal cans on endless rows of shelving, are being shown this winter at BAMPFA as part of its ongoing Out of the Vault: Everything’s Ephemeral film series. The series, curated by Jon Shibata, Adrianne Finelli and Pamela Vadakan, and partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, features non-commercial 16 mm films that are mostly 12 minutes long and are ephemeral — such as home movies, amateur and educational films, orphan films, unidentified film fragments and other oddities. The trio researched BAMPFA’s film catalog, scoured the stacks, previewed films and slotted their favorites into the series’ three themes: inner and outer landscapes, poetry/rhythm/movement, and play. The series serendipitously coincides with the 100th anniversary of 16 mm film.

These films cans stacked on top of each other contain short films being shown at the BAMPFA's "Out of the Vault" series this winter.

Here are some of the films being shown in the “Out of the Vault” series at BAMPFA this winter. BAMPFA offers some 450 film screenings a year from every film-producing country in the world. (UC Berkeley photo by Neil Freese)

This Sunday, Feb. 5, nine short films will be shown at the Barbro Osher Theater — within the BAMPFA at 2155 Center St. in Berkeley — in a program called Your eyes dance hello and, says Vadakan, director of California Revealed, these gems “greet us with percussive joys, expansive wonders, and surprises.” A 10-film collection, Play is the work of life, will be shown at BAMPFA on Thursday, Feb. 16. That program, says Shibata, BAMPFA’s film archivist, “is an attempt to attune, to reconnect to that essential call to play within us all.”