Home Interviews Sunny Side interview: Elizabeth Klinck, Archive Producer

Sunny Side interview: Elizabeth Klinck, Archive Producer

Elizabeth Klinck

It’s a decade now since Elizabeth Klinck, the renowned archive producer and copyright clearance specialist, approached Sunny Side of the Doc together with a small team of history producers to suggest that “history and archive” should be included as a key part of the festival alongside its other strands.

“Previously, it [the festival] was more science, arts and current affairs. They had a three-day festival and we approached them about adding a fourth day,” the archive producer recalls to BDE.

Since then, Klinck has been involved in planning the industry sessions that involve archive and history.

“It’s a lovely collaboration with Jean-Jacques Peretti [programming & training coordinator] and Mathieu Béjot [director of strategy and development]. We start the conversation very early. Last October, we started talking about what we are going to be doing in June.”

This year, after all these months of brainstorming, two intriguing sessions have been hatched, both on issues of pressing concern to the archive world.

On Tuesday (25 June, 4pm), Klinck, as moderator, and her high-level panellists, will be wrestling with the thorny subject of Archives, AI and Ethics.

“We have been living with AI for many years of course,” she notes. “It has been very helpful in many ways for archive researchers and producers in terms of speeding up the search.”

The benefits have been obvious. Archive producers facing “much quicker turnaround times” and working with international partners are increasingly turning to AI-driven software to save time and money.

“[But] I think the challenge lies in the future because of some of the generative AI,” Klinck suggests. “With anything new, we have to be sure that it is being used responsibly and that the veracity of the material is maintained.”

One obvious issue causing apprehension is IP and copyright infringement. AI scrubs the internet for footage. Erroneous information is sometimes posted and websites are springing up that have misleading information about the provenance of clips and photos.

“That’s our biggest concern moving forward. That is something the World Intellectual Property Organisation is looking at…AI is such a broad term. There is narrow AI [and] general AI. There are examples of AI-generated creations and inventions – that could be a piece of footage or a photograph. Who is regulating the patents?”

Some envisage a future in which archive producers’ main task will be to authenticate material and establish its veracity – with AI taking care of the actual gathering of this material. “We will still need a human to determine what the provenance of that material is and whether it is what it says it is. I think our job is going to change. I can’t predict exactly how…it is going to be a wild and woolly ride for archive producers going forward. We don’t know how exactly it [AI] will impact our jobs – but we know it will!”

New York-based Paul Melcher, managing director of MelcherSystem, is one of the panellists. He is an acknowledged authority on AI and the ethical dilemmas surrounding its use. He’s joined by archive producer Stephanie Jenkins, well known for the astonishing work she has done on the historical documentaries made by Ken Burns. She is co-founder of the new organisation Archival Producers Alliance which has its own strong stance on AI. Also on the panel is Virginia Bazán-Gil, General Secretary of FIAT/IFTA.

“I think it is going to be a good fact-finding session. I think it is going to be balanced between all of the people who use archive, and I am hoping it will also address some of the complexities. I think that is what is really difficult – there is so much information out there right now. How do you make sense of it all?”

The second Sunny Side panel is on Archives at Risk (Weds, 26 June 2.30pm). This session is tackling a range of issues currently posing challenges in the archive world.

One question is what is happening to archives in war-torn or economically ravaged countries.

“It’s a topic I feel very strongly about. You always like to think [for example] that we have all this amazing footage from the conflict in Syria. A lot of it was uploaded and made available through people’s mobile phones but we have to be very careful about using some of the delivery systems on the web. Sometimes, material gets taken down…sometimes people don’t have the original material any longer,” Klinck reflects. 

That’s why she ranks the work of figures like panellists like Hadi Al Khatib, the Berlin-based Managing Director of Mnemonic, so highly. “He is a real hero, an archive hero, in my estimation, because he has spent many, many years collecting material from Syria, Ukraine, Gaza…he’s cataloguing it, he is captioning it, he is describing it. Obviously, a lot of people will just upload it [the material] to a YouTube site or upload it to Google, but they don’t often include all of the metadata that is essential for an archive producer.”

Conscious that archival material can be used as evidence in cases involving human rights abuses, Al Khatib also makes sure that the video footage is what it purports to be. “He has a good team and they are working very quickly to ensure all these different conflicts are being archived and preserved for future generations.”

Also joining the panel “virtually” is Ukrainian Oleksandr Makhanets, Chief Archivist at the Centre for Urban History (Lviv, Ukraine). “His work again is to take user-generated material, material that people have shot not only starting with the Ukraine war but previous to that, so there is a real sense of what those cities and towns looked like before the carnage. He is also making sure there is a good documentation of what has happened over the past two years.”

Another panellist is Guillaume Meyer, Afptv Global News Editor, who is an expert on the Middle East. He will be speaking about AFP’s work with videographers across the region. “They’re the creators but they also then have an archive so you can buy this material.”

Completing the panel is Laura Tusi, who is travelling all the way to Sunny Side from Buenos Aires. She is an “educator and producer” who is “also very familiar with what is going on in Brazil.” In particular, she has been monitoring the aftermath of the huge fire that destroyed a Brazilian film archive during the pandemic. “She is going to speak about what happens when you have an economic downturn and a change in government and the funding is not there for archiving and public broadcasters – and what the impact is on archives for future generations when there isn’t money to preserve the material or acquire the material.”

The panel is also wrestling with the question of whether archives “omit marginalised voices, perpetuate biases, or fail to encompass the entirety of human experiences.”

“I think this is something people are much more aware of in terms of voices that are not identified properly. I can talk of my own experience in Canada where there were a lot of Indigenous people in photographs or film footage but there wasn’t a lot of time put in to identifying who these people are,” the moderator reflects. “Let’s find out who these people are. They weren’t just nameless people in nameless communities…it’s important their voices are heard!”

Klinck is promising a “far reaching and very interesting discussion” with a philosophical undertow – all of these weighty issues to be tackled in a session lasting for just an hour.