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EFM: Archive, the past is the future

Award-winning producer, clearance specialist and visual researcher Elizabeth Klinck is sometimes described as the “fairy godmother” of archival research. Thanks to her work organising panels and workshops at festivals, many filmmakers have learned invaluable lessons about such matters as copyright clearance, errors and omissions insurance and, most importantly, how and where to find the visual materials they need.

Klinck will again be a prominent presence on March 2 during Archive Day at the EFM.  She will moderate the morning session entitled “The Latest Buzz in Archival Research” and will then be on hand for consultations. The Latest Buzz session is designed for participants to gain an inside view on how archival material is used in documentary filmmaking and what the work of an archival researcher looks like. What should filmmakers know if they want to use third-party material in their work and what is the latest buzz in archival storytelling?

Joining Klinck will be internationally acclaimed researchers Monika Preischl from Germany and Morgane Barrier from France who will present clips from their recent work and share with the audience how rich and vast the scope of archival material can be.

Klinck is also involved in a session titled “Unlocking the Mysteries of Archives” which will look at the “communication channels” between archivists and users, looking to create greater understanding on both sides.The inaugural Archive Day was held at last year’s Berlinale. “Hitherto, archives had not really been represented at the Berlinale. It was very well received last year,” Klinck notes. She hopes the momentum will continue this year, even if the event is online.As has been widely noted, archives have been doing bumper business during the pandemic. Facing travel restrictions and with their subjects in lockdown, many directors have been turning to archival-based work.

“It has been a very good time for archive-heavy productions because we always have worked in relative isolation and so we don’t need to worry about Covid-testing and health and safety issues,” she observes. “The archives to their credit started digitising their collections five and even 10 years ago. That meant we were able to change quite quickly last March…I’ve really been impressed by how normal it has felt and how supportive the archives have been to those of us coming to them looking for material.”

Another welcome trend she has noticed is the interest among younger viewers in archive-driven fare.“A lot of people have turned to archives to get their films finished. There is also a nice confluence between the need to do this during the pandemic and the burgeoning OTTs,” she adds, citing new streaming giants like Paramount Plus and Disney +. “They’re all looking for documentaries and they’ve found a younger audience which is quite exciting. For a long time, documentaries were considered to be skewing older but what they’re finding is a lot of younger viewers are excited by archival docs.”

One of Klinck’s jobs during the early part of the pandemic was finishing off Werner Herzog’s latest documentary Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds, in which the visionary German auteur, working together with Clive Oppenheimer, explores the influence of meteors and comets on ancient civilisations. The doc was made through Richard Merman at Spring Films in the UK.“We worked together on a film about volcanoes a few years ago (Into the Inferno, 2016) so this was a follow-up,” Klinck says of Herzog, adding that the German was “absolutely delightful” and “extremely grateful and gracious about everything.”

During the first part of the pandemic, the Canadian also worked on BBC Science/Netflix series The Surgeon’s Cut, about four visionary scientists from different parts of the world.Over the years, Klinck has collaborated with many leading names in the doc world, among them figures like Alex Gibney and Jerry Rothwell. “But I also leave room in my schedule for some younger filmmakers. They often are excited about archives but a bit overwhelmed by it. I’ve done a lot of mentoring.”Klinck began her career at the National Film Board of Canada. “I was very fortunate to have a marvellous mentor called Barbara Sears. We now have an award at the Canadian Screen Awards named after her because tragically she died quite young. She took me under her wing.”

This was in the 80s, just as the technology was beginning to change. Once archives became searchable online, Klinck, then a young mother, was able to work from home. “I loved it because it employed my research skills and it was so satisfying to be able to look at so much great visual material. It also involves good business acumen, negotiating good prices and arranging bulk deals.”No two projects are the same. Some she will work on for a month and others for a year.

Alongside her own visual research work, Klinck also works as a teacher. She has unrivalled contacts in the archival world, and very strong links in the UK. She has worked several times with Met Films, sits on the International Executive Committee for FOCAL (Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries International), based in London, and had a long-standing relationship with the Sheffield Doc Fest, where she presented archive-themed masterclasses at the Documentary Campus.Yes, she has worked on dramatic features but her main focus is documentary. She hopes soon to be back on the road, attending film events rather than participating via Zoom.

“I’ve always enjoyed attending film festivals. I started with Hot Docs in its very early days. And some of the Canadian Festivals. For me, it was a way to increase the visibility of the world of archives because over the years, that has sometimes been overlooked,” she notes.“It has been fun. I get to meet people I would only have emailed [otherwise] and so that is always a delight. And I’ve often walked away with a good contract because I’ve met a filmmaker and we have clicked. The networking and business opportunities are great but most important for me was to raise the profile of archives,” she concludes.

EFM: Archive, the past is the future
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