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The theft of valuable media equipment and years’ worth of priceless footage from a Berkeley production company has left filmmakers devastated and desperate to recover their work.

Surveillance footage appears to show a man and a woman breaking into West Berkeley’s Frame of Mind Films offices early Monday morning. The pair is seen hauling multiple computers and large boxes out of the 2550 Ninth St. building over the course of several hours.

Berkeley Police Lt. Peter Hong said the department is investigating the case.

“Our detectives are actively working leads,” he said in an email.

When filmmaker Rosemary Rawcliffe, Frame of Mind founder, arrived at the office Monday after getting an 8:30 a.m. call about the burglary from the building manager, “the only thing left was desks and chairs.”

“You can’t process that. It’s like when somebody tells you the thing dearest to you is dead,” she said.

A door has a hole in it, and there's sawdust piled up below it on the ground.
Thieves drilled a hole in an office door to break in and take equipment, filmmakers say. Photo: Frame of Mind Films

The stolen property included seven computers, multiple massive hard drives, high-end headphones, a DVD player and other production equipment, according to Frame of Mind.

“We’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of hours of all my material,” said Rawcliffe, who’s made films in England and the U.S. for more than 50 years. That material includes critical legal permissions, she said. While a lot of the archival footage is “irreplaceable,” much of the more recent media is backed up — but the cost to recover it is exorbitant, Rawcliffe said.

The theft came just a couple months before the planned premiere of a new feature-length Frame of Mind documentary about the Dalai Lama, which is eight years in the making, Rawcliffe said. The original footage for that film was taken.

“We’ve all worked so hard and we were so close to finishing,” she said. “The young people who work with me, they are heartbroken.”

Frame of Mind, which has been located in the Parker Plaza complex on Ninth Street for about five years, makes both short- and full-length documentaries. The filmmakers tell stories “that impact our human condition and challenge our global consciousness,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

Rawcliffe said she hadn’t previously had any experiences with theft, but said other Parker Plaza tenants have had property stolen.

The recent surveillance footage, reviewed after the Monday incident, appears to reveal the same man who burglarized Frame of Mind casing the building a couple weeks earlier. Someone had come and drilled another hole in a door shortly before the theft as well, Rawcliffe said.

Surveillance footage shows a woman holding a computer and a box by a door.
Surveillance footage appears to show two people stealing heavy-duty equipment from a media company in West Berkeley this week. Image: Courtesy Frame of Mind Films

In spite of the nightmarish week she’s had, Rawcliffe has been heartened by the “phenomenal response” from her community, she said. Frame of Mind has received many messages of support and some donations through its website. The funds could go toward footage recovery or new production equipment.

“Nothing is too small,” she said. “I’m a nonprofit and I live on the goodwill of the dear, dear people who support us. It’s difficult just to make films as is.”

As for her film material, Rawcliffe said she and her colleagues are still hopeful  but not naive to the possibility that it’s gone forever — even if the equipment turns up. Police told her that thieves who intend to sell computers and hard drives often wipe them clean right away.

“I’m just holding out hope that something will emerge,” she said.

Top video courtesy of Frame of Mind Films.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...