So, over the next couple entries of this column, I was going to devote a bunch of space to the best footage sources out there. When I started to write the next chapter, one resource stuck out to me as deserving a column—possibly a book—all to itself: The Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive was founded in 1996 as a non-profit venture dedicated to creating a library for the future, an “internet library.” It has since grown like an invasive plant species to cover a whole landscape of material: text, moving images, audio, and even something they call the Wayback Machine, which takes snapshots of major sites on the internet and stores them, so that you can go and take a look at what the internet looked like in 1999 (how did we ever find anything?).

In terms of images and video, Archive is—fortunately and unfortunately—a bit of a chaotic morass. Since users can upload their own content to be forever stored free of charge, you get a lot of crazies making video rants about politics and hardcore gamers capturing their perfect score on Super Mario Bros 3. However, if you don’t mind searching through a lot of the mess (with what is, unfortunately, a fairly primitive keyword search), then Archive is the goldmine of goldmines. It contains most of the films ever made with US government funds, including the old newsreels, NASA videos, the Cold War Duck and Cover PSAs, and the entire Frank Capra-directed Why We Fight series from WWII, almost all of which is available for download in DVD quality MPEG-2 format.

But (in infomercial announcer voice) that’s not all! It also contains hundreds of B movies and feature films that have entered the public domain. There are fantastic commercials from the 1930s to the 1970s. Even some of the user-generated content can be useful. More than once, I have found uses for home movies that people have uploaded for whatever reason. And there’s a whole cadre of VJs that have uploaded some of their effects loops for general use.

I spend more time on Archive than I probably ought. Aside from its value as a source for show content, it’s an absolutely fascinating glimpse into the breadth and depth of media in this country.