In a locked room kept at a chilly 62 degrees are reels of more than 500 films, mostly 16mm, said Brian Hearn, film curator. The museum is one of less than 10 institutions nationwide that houses such an archive, including the Library of Congress, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

That OKCMOA is among them is entirely accidental, Hearn said.

“It was not part of the plan,” he said, when the museum moved from the state fairgrounds in 2002. But a call from University of Central Oklahoma professor John Springer changed all that: a custodian found 180 films in a closet and was taking them to the Dumpster, which Hearn was “absolutely mortified” to hear.

One impromptu mission later, he said OKCMOA staffers were “stunned” at what they had rescued: works by some of world cinema’s most lauded directors: D.W. Griffith, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, Federico Fellini.

More acquisitions followed, including the classics “The Maltese Falcon,” “King Kong,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “It Happened One Night” and “High Noon,” plus Thomas Edison shorts and Max Flesicher cartoons starring Superman, Popeye and Betty Boop. The shelves sport their share of oddities, such as “Twilight Zone” episodes, the “Bambi Meets Godzilla” short and something called “Hank the Cave Peanut.” Whatever the title, it’s all important.

“We treat this just as we would our art collection,” Hearn said. “It’s a very eclectic collection. It’s literally an international collection, but its strength is American history.”

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