C.V. Starr East Asian Library now home to largest Chinese film archive in North America

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UC Berkeley’s C.V. Starr East Asian Library recently acquired film historian Paul Fonoroff’s rare Chinese film studies collection, making UC Berkeley the home of the largest collection of Chinese film archives in North America.

The exhibit features more than 70,000 pieces, including periodicals, posters, lobby cards, theater flyers, scripts, booklets, novelettes, VHS tapes and articles and columns by Fonoroff. Prior to opening at UC Berkeley, the collection was housed in two apartments in Hong Kong. The campus acquired the collection in 2015 and officially opened the exhibition to the public April 14.

“This collection at Berkeley will make Berkeley the first destination for anyone interested in film culture,” said Andrew Jones, campus professor and Louis B. Agassiz Chair in Chinese. “It’s going to become a global attraction.”

Jones worked intimately with the collection, which he called “invaluable,” in 1996 in Fonoroff’s apartment when writing his dissertation. In exchange for access to the works, Jones helped Fonoroff organize the materials in his apartment.

Weihong Bao, campus associate professor of film and media studies and East Asian language and cultures, discovered that Fonoroff was looking to sell his collection in 2015. Bao relayed this information to Peter Zhou, assistant university librarian and director of the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. Zhou then worked with Fonoroff and the campus to purchase the art.

Nearly 20 years after Jones visited Fonoroff’s apartment, Zhou traveled to the same Hong Kong apartment in April 2015 to convince Fonoroff that UC Berkeley was the right home for the artwork.

Zhou said numerous factors led to Fonoroff’s decision to sell the work to the campus. Fonoroff felt he needed to find a buyer quickly because his landlord was planning on selling the apartment building. Zhou also told Fonoroff that UC Berkeley has one of the best Chinese studies program and a very strong Chinese film studies program.

“I told (Fonoroff) he’d be part of the Berkeley family and the East Asian Library family,” Zhou said.

Fonoroff was on campus earlier this month to give a speech sponsored by the Center for Chinese Studies. He and his family also attended the reception for the exhibit April 14. Other reception guests included Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, the campus’s university librarian, and Carla Hesse, dean of the College of Letters and Science, along with guests interested in Chinese culture.

The collection is a valuable resource for research in Chinese film studies, the entertainment industry, art, art history, popular culture, urbanization and social and economic history. Zhou said both Bao and Jones have plans to research the collection, along with other faculty members in various fields.

“The historic and geographical span (of the collection) is amazing and inclusive,” Bao said. “It is exciting for research and teaching. It creates historical connection and relates to not only Chinese film, but world cinema.”

Contact Ella Jensen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ellajensen_dc.