The Deutsche Kinemathek officially opened in February 1963. Its founding director was Gerhard Lamprecht who over the decades had meticulously put together an extensive collection of films, documents and equipment. The City State of Berlin acquired this collection and then handed it over to the new institution for its preservation and use.
Since its establishment, the Deutsche Kinemathek has indexed everything related to film history and technology, cinema and, to a certain extent, television: film prints as well as other items indispensable for research on film history, e.g. film programs, posters, drawings for set designs and costumes, photos, scripts, personal estates and other documents. The Deutsche Kinemathek had been a museum without an exhibition for years. Since September 2000 – as Filmmuseum Berlin – it has been able to present a part of its collections in the Permanent Exhibition Film. It invites visitors to make a journey, thematically and chronologically arranged, through German film history. Another main focus of the Permanent Exhibition is the relationship between Berlin and Hollywood. Special exhibitions complete the program.
Today the Deutsche Kinemathek has some 26,000 German and foreign silent and sound films in its archive. Special emphases are avant-garde, experimental and documentary films. The archive has also made a name for itself by reconstructing important films; and its distribution department makes the films in its archive as well as productions from the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb) available to non-commercial venues, e.g. to communal movie theaters, film clubs, adult education centers and universities. The other collections contain: over a million film stills, portraits or production photos, c. 30,000 scripts, 16,000 posters, 60,000 film programs, movie tickets, filmographic and biographic material, personal estates as well as projectors, cameras and other devices from the early years of cinema up until today. Drawings, designs and models testify to the development of set design in Germany from 1919 until the present. A special focus is also the collection on special effects, animation and fantasy films: animation cels, matte paintings, designs, props and miniatures – Mickey Mouse meets Spider-Man. The development from cinematography to digital cinema is particularly well illustrated in this collection.
A further major focus of the collections is its documentation of Germans from the film industry who were exiled in Hollywood. The Deutsche Kinemathek has what is probably the most comprehensive collection on this topic in the world. The collection centers on the correspondence of the famous American agent Paul Kohner.
The Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin protects and preserves Marlene Dietrich’s huge estate which the Kinemathek acquired from the City State of Berlin in 1993. The collection is open to scientific research and international exhibitions.
The Deutsche Kinemathek documents its work in countless events. It regularly presents special exhibitions, and participates in international exhibitions on film history and other subjects related to the arts and cultural history. Since 1977 the Deutsche Kinemathek supervises the conception and organization of the Retrospective section of the Berlin International Film Festival. It also holds historical tributes and colloquia. What is more, the Deutsche Kinemathek devotes itself to film literature, regularly bringing out publications, many of which have become standard works of film historiography.
As a member of the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (fiaf), the Deutsche Kinemathek participates internationally in both exchanging experience and film prints. The Deutsches Filminstitut (German Film Institute – dif), the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv (Federal Archive / Film Archive – Coblenz / Berlin) and the Kinemathek constitute the Deutscher Kinematheksverbund (Association of German Film Archives) which, for instance, discusses problems related to archiving German films.
In July 1998 a group interested in the museum founded the Verein Freunde und Förderer des Filmmuseums Berlin e. V. (Association of Friends and Patrons of the Filmmuseum Berlin). As its statutes state, its objective is: "to support the Filmmuseum’s work in collaboration with the Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, which funds the Filmmuseum, in a way that is effective for its appeal to a broad section of the population and to promote public awareness of the importance of film.”
Since 2001 the Deutsche Kinemathek is a member of the Netzwerk Mediatheken (Network of Media Archives), an organization for major national archives, libraries, documentation offices, research facilities and museums, whose aim is to develop a central portal for AV media for both science and art.
With the exhibition "Fernsehen macht glücklich" (Television Makes You Happy) – to celebrate the 50th anniversary of German television – the Deutsche Kinemathek took a first in-depth look at the history of television as a medium. This exhibition formed, so to speak, the prelude to the Permanent Exhibition Television of the Deutsche Kinemathek, which opened on June, 1, 2006, and provides an entertaining overview of five decades of television in East and West Germany. It offers visitors an opportunity to reexamine their own personal television experiences and to increase their awareness of Germany's audio-visual heritage. Complementary Special Exhibitions investigate historical-cultural contexts of film and television.