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After promoting the development of the Federal Columbia River Power System and the idea of public power in the 1930s, BPA films began to tell new stories about the Northwest power system and the challenges and victories that took place over the next four decades. BPA Film Collection, Volume Two, features films from the 1950s through 1987, the year of BPA’s 50th anniversary. Several films were transferred from original 16 mm film reels that were considered lost until they were discovered in storage at the National Archives and Records Administration in Seattle in 2013. Unfortunately, several films were too damaged to be successfully transferred, so the library had to go back to the video transfers from the 1990s.
BPA librarian Libby Burke curated both collections and provides an introduction to each group of films.  The collection opens with a terrific film called “Stringing and Sagging a High-Voltage Transmission Line.” This film, made in 1950, shows how BPA engineers determined what kind of cable to use, and how to string it and sag it for the best transmission of high-voltage electricity. It features wonderful animation and tower models. The next film, “The World Behind Your Light Switch” (1966), explains the thousands of uses of electricity and shows how lines are repaired in all weather conditions and circumstances. It includes footage of the first repair done on the San Juan Cable, the laying of which was depicted in BPA’s 1952 film called “25,000 Volts Under the Sea,” which is part of first collection. The last film in the first group is “Great River.” Produced by BPA and the Bureau of Reclamation in 1963, this film covers many aspects of getting electricity and water to the people. It was re-released a decade later with a new opening and ending.

The second group in the collection includes a pair of award-winning films. “Intertie” (1969), showcases the construction of the Pacific Northwest-Pacific Southwest Direct Current Intertie, a high-voltage electric superhighway between the Northwest and Southwest that helps balance power needs in the West and allows the two regions to share surplus electricity. It features spectacular aerial footage, great bluegrass music and a time-lapse of the construction of the Celilo Converter Station, the northern terminus of the intertie in The Dalles, Ore. The next film, “River of Power” (1987), is the most comprehensive description of the development of the Columbia River in the history of BPA filmmaking. Made for BPA’s 50th anniversary, it looks at the geology that created the Columbia River Basin, incorporates footage from other BPA films and features alternate recordings of some of the Columbia River songs that Woody Guthrie wrote for BPA in 1941.

There are two bonus films in the collection. “Action on the Columbia” (1964), produced BC Hydro, captures the Canadian perspective on the Columbia River Treaty, an international agreement between Canada and the United States that guides the management of water resources of the Columbia River Basin and helps prevent major floods. It explains how the treaty with the U.S. was going to affect the people in the communities where three dams were going to be built in British Columbia and features spectacular aerial views of the upper Columbia River before the dams went in. With the permission of BC Hydro, this film is included in the collection in honor of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty. The collection closes with the recently discovered version of BPA’s first film, “Hydro.” This alternate version, made in 1940s for general audiences, removes about eight minutes of electricity rate and other local information from the original 33-minute film made in 1939. It’s called the international version because Vice President Henry Wallace took it on his goodwill visit to Russia, Mongolia and China in the spring of 1944.

BPA Film Collection, Volume Two, 1950-1987, as well as BPA Film Collection, Volume One, 1939-1954, is also available on DVD. To get a free copy, contact the BPA Library and Visitor Center in Portland at 800-622-4520 or In addition to being posted below, you can view and share the films and other BPA-produced videos on BPA’s YouTube channel.