When it opened on December 1, 1970, Anthology Film Archives issued the following manifesto, which summarized its polemical position:
"The cinematheques of the world generally collect and show the multiple manifestations of film: as document, history, industry, mass communication. Anthology Film Archives is the first film museum exclusively devoted to the film as an art. What are the essentials of the film experience? Which films embody the heights of the art of cinema? The creation of Anthology Film Archives has been an ambitious attempt to provide answers to these questions; the first of which is physical – to construct a theater in which films can be seen under the best conditions; and second critical – to define the art of film in terms of selected works which indicate its essences and parameters.
One of the guiding principles of this new film museum is that a great film must be seen many times. For that reason the entire collection will be presented in repeated cycles. With three different programs each day, an anthology of one hundred programs (approximately equivalent to our present collection) can be repeated monthly. In this way frequent periodic viewing will be possible for the dedicated spectator. The cycle will also provide a unique opportunity for students of the medium to see a concentrated history of the art of film within a period of four or five weeks. One would have to travel extensively and spend a few years in film museums to acquire the cinematic education of equal magnitude."
–The Essential Cinema: Essays on the films in the collection of Anthology Film Archives, edited by P. Adams Sitney