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Elizabeth Klinck
An icon of Canadian documentary Cinema.
Imagine, if you will, a beautiful, statuesque woman—in the biz, dubbed the Queen of Visual Research and Rights Clearances—with a courteous, whimsical manner, and the mind of Star Trek’s Data. Perhaps, like Antony Thomas, who says, “she is the finest researcher I have come across in my entire career,” you have to be in that coterie of lucky filmmakers who have worked with her to fully appreciate Elizabeth Klinck’s work. She’s made their films sing, and all who have had the pleasure want her to do it with them again.

Rather than extolling Elizabeth’s contribution to more than 350 films, one would prefer simply to screen her work in films such as Eat That Question, a 100-percent archival Frank Zappa documentary. And then discuss the contacts; esoteric sourcing; seemingly impossible, multi-layered music and insurance clearances; meticulous research; and the filmic smarts required to layer, enrich, sometimes even make films like this possible. The kicker is that not only does Elizabeth have impeccable skills but she also intuitively rides each director’s wavelength and adapts to each film’s frequency. “Elizabeth has an acute sense of story and structure,” Thomas says, “and an amazing ability to find compelling characters absolutely relevant to the subject of the film.” Then, because she is gentle, caring, trustworthy, the characters open up to her.

Elizabeth is known to unearth relevant archival gems, sometimes hidden in hundreds of hours of visual material: photos, rare footage, logos, her vanguard sourcing of social media platforms. “She has the gift of insight as to what and how archive can help tell a director's story,” says Werner Herzog. Her knowledge of the perplexing differences between fair use and fair dealing, more than most copyright experts, opens up filmic possibilities. And her experience negotiating rates and clearances across a complex set of evolving platforms, plus 40 years of world-wide collegial interaction with archivists, publishers and rights-holders, produces material crucial to the making of great films.

In 2019, Elizabeth was given the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television Board of Directors’ Tribute Award (one of her many national and international awards, which include the prestigious FOCAL Lifetime Achievement Award and the inaugural Rogers-DOC Luminary Award). The Academy application included support letters from filmmakers; broadcasters; international workshop, conference and institute organizers; and members of the Visual Researchers’ Society of Canada, the association she spear-headed and mentored as its president for over a decade. At VRSC, Elizabeth secured members’ health benefits and an annual Canadian Screen Award for Visual Research.

“I feel compelled to pass on what I know because it’s not taught in film schools,” Elizabeth says, “and it’s essential for making great films. People should have this knowledge and have a voice.”

Elizabeth continues to share her knowledge and the goodwill she’s garnered at broadcast networks and international archival collections, with under-represented filmmaking communities, and in teaching environments around the world.

Tanya Fleet: She has also been an advocate for Canadian audio-visual history. Shelley Saywell: I have been with Liz on panels and workshops, and at festivals where her generosity and knowledge has helped countless young filmmakers. Yves Jeanneau: Elizabeth Klinck est le premier nom que je cite lorsque l’on me demande qui est le meilleur expert mondial pour les documentaires d’Histoire à base d’archives. Jennifer Baichwal (who first worked with Elizabeth in 2008): Since then, no film has felt complete without her presence.

We honour Elizabeth Klinck for her critically creative contribution to documentary film, and because she has worked in the business for over 40 years—and everyone loves her. Merrily Weisbord. February 2023.

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