Doc Producers Call for Generative AI Guardrails in Open Letter


During the SAG and WGA contract negotiations, conversation swirled around Hollywood’s use of artificial intelligence as the industry wrestled with what the new tech could mean for the future of entertainment. Now, a group of documentary producers are hoping to bring attention to the use of generative AI in non-fiction filmmaking, specifically as it pertains to archival work.

“It is time for the industry to establish standards in response to the new technology, so that trust with our viewers will remain unbroken,” reads the open letter from the newly established Archival Producers Alliance. The Alliance is made up of over 100 documentarians that include Emmy and Oscar winning filmmakers that have worked across studios and streamers.

As the non-fiction market has boomed, largely thanks to streaming supercharging the once sleepy industry, there has been growing ethical concerns among those in the doc community. These concerns have ranged from subjects acting as producers on projects about their own lives to stories being shaped by studios to follow certain narrative structures. A growing concern in the doc community has been the use of generative artificial intelligence.

Spearheaded by Sub-Basement Archival’s Rachel Antell and Jennifer Petrucelli (Crip Camp, 37 Words) and Stephanie Jenkins of Florentine Films (Muhammad Ali), the group is calling on the industry to establish best practices and have greater transparency when it comes to generative AI.

Among the examples of generative AI use in non-fiction archival work, the group cites the generation of fake newspaper articles and headlines and of recreations and non-existent historical artifacts without identification. Additionally, AI-generated “historical” images that are meant to depict real people and events, “rather than sourcing real ones where available” are being used “in order to save time and money,” the open letter notes.

“Generated material presented as ‘real’ in one film will be passed along – on the internet, in other films – and is in danger of forever muddying the historical record,” the letter reads.”

The group’s focus is not on all artificial intelligence used in docs. (Recent docs Welcome to Chechnya and Another Body used artificial intelligence as a storytelling mechanism or to help conceal the identity of interviewees.) The Alliance’s focus is on generative AI (or GAI), which is being used to create new materials like photos, video, or audio. In 2021, the Anthony Bourdain doc Roadrunner received criticism for generating the voice of the late Bourdain using AI.

The Alliance’s open letter concludes: “We feel that it is imperative that the documentary community lead by example in setting a precedent of transparency and best practices.”   

Read the full letter from newly formed Archival Producers Alliance below.

As seen in the recent WGA and SAG strikes, generative AI (GAI) is revolutionizing the film industry. We can’t know the future, but we believe we have a responsibility to use GAI in accordance with the journalistic values the documentary community has long held. Foremost is the implicit promise to the audience that what is presented as authentic media, is in fact authentic. We see that representation being skewed by GAI, and believe it is time for the industry to establish standards in response to the new technology, so that trust with our viewers will remain unbroken.

We are the Archival Producers Alliance, a passionate group of filmmakers using our collective knowledge to influence policy and affect change within the industry. Our completed works include Emmy-, Oscar-, and Peabody-Award winning films for networks, streamers, museums, and theatrical releases. As archival producers, we collaborate with directors, producers and editors to research, source and license all forms of audio-visual archival materials. In the documentary space, we’re on the front lines of preserving integrity and journalistic ethics for archival material used in the films we work on – and together we’re raising our concerns about how GAI will affect our work, and documentary films as a whole.

A few examples of GAI use that members of the Alliance have started to see: 

  • A lack of transparency with audiences when historical voices are generated by AI, leading viewers to believe they are hearing authentic primary sources when they are not.
  • Creating AI-generated ‘historical’ images to depict people and events, rather than sourcing real ones where available, in order to save time and money.
  • Generating fake newspaper articles and headlines, removing viewers from fact-based sources.
  • Generating recreations and non-existent historical artifacts without identifying them as such. 

We recognize there may be good reasons for documentarians to use AI-generated media: to bring to life the stories of people who are missing from history, or to take viewers to a time or place without adequate visual representation. But without standards, use of GAI threatens to distort history and transform the relationship we have with audiences. Generated material presented as “real” in one film will be passed along – on the internet, in other films – and is in danger of forever muddying the historical record. The commingling of real and unreal taints all of it; if neither images or audio can be believed, then the nonfiction genre is hopelessly compromised. 

The survival of the documentary industry, in all of its power and promise to help us understand and interpret our history and our present, is contingent on maintaining a truthful and transparent relationship with viewers. 

Particularly in the absence of regulations around this quickly-evolving technology, we feel that it is imperative that the documentary community lead by example in setting a precedent of transparency and best practices.   


Rachel Antell: Archival Producer – Sub-Basement Archival
Jennifer Petrucelli: Archival Producer – Sub-Basement Archival

Stephanie Jenkins: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Florentine Films / Joan of Archive
Prue Arndt: Archive Producer – Independent
Lizzy MCGlynn: Archival Producer – Freelance
Kenn Rabin: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Fulcrum Media Services
Rich Remsberg: Archival Producer – Freelance

Sheila Maniar: Archival Producer Documentary Producer – Freelance
Christine Fall: Archival Producer – Freelance
Clare Smith Marash: Filmmaker – Freelance
Eugen Bräunig: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Macrofilm
Emmy Scharlatt: Archival Producer/ Filmmaker – Esme Films
Matt McDonald: Archival Producer – Triple Threat TV / McUsbay Media
Akia Thorpe: Documentary Producer – Florentine Films
Arsh Harjani: Archival Producer – Vox Media

Celia Aniskovich: Archival Producer, Director, Producer, Dial Tone Films
Mika Holliday Lentz: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Melissa Jacobson: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Jillian Bergman: Archival Producer – Freelance
Megan Robertson: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – FXR Films, LLC
Andrew Mayz: Archival Producer, Director, Producer – Freelance
Emily Harrold: Archival Producer, Documentary Filmmaker – Apograph Productions
Chi-Young Park: Archival Producer, Producer – Freelance
Rebecca Losick: Archival Producer – Freelance
Heather Wilson: Archival Producer – Archival Ninjas
Carrie Nelson: Archival Producer – McGee Media
Mary Abramson: Archival Producer – Freelance
Lauren Wimbush: Archival Producer – Documentary Filmmaker, Freelance
Noah Weitzman: Archival Producer – Freelance
Avery Fox: Archival Producer – Freelance

Sascha Weiss: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Frauke Levin: Archival Producer – Freelance
Rachael Morrison, Archival Producer – Freelance
Ben Cooper: Archival Producer – Freelance
Vanessa Maruskin: Archival Producer – Story Producer, Freelance
Emily Schkolnick: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Cara Fitts, Archival Producer – Macrofilm
John Haptas: Documentary Filmmaker – Stylo Films
Kristine Samuelson: Documentary Filmmaker – Stylo Films
Nick Tyson: Archival Producer, Documentary Filmmaker – Freelance
Jeff Dye, Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Mary Antinozzi Soule: Archival Producer – Freelance
Ray Segal: Archival Producer – SegalPix
Amy Brillhart: Archival Producer – Freelance
Mattie Akers: Archival Producer – Freelance
Nick Gilbert: Archive Producer – Freelance
Kevin Bay: Archive Producer, Documentary Filmmaker – Freelance
Brian Becker: Archival Producer/Filmmaker – Freelance

Rob Garver: Filmmaker / Archival Producer – 29Pictures LLC
Natalie Shmuel: Archival Producer – Freelance
Meaghan Kelley: Archival Producer – Freelance
Judson Wells: Archival Producer – Freelance
Elizabeth Klinck: Archive Producer – E Klinck Research
Jacqui Edwards: Archive Producer – Freelance

Paul Dallas: Archival Producer – Producer, Independent
Katie McGrath: Archive Producer – Freelance
Victoria Evans: Archive Producer – Freelance
Joe Siegal: Assistant Editor – Florentine Films
Margaret Lee: Archival producer, assistant editor – Freelance
Hannah Shepard: Archival Producer – Freelance
Madeline King: Archival Producer – Freelance
Michelle Adler: Archival Producer – Freelance
Madeleine Lawrence: Archival Producer – Freelance
Johanna Schiller: Archival Producer – Freelance
Jo Stones: Archive Producer – Freelance
Gabriella Gallus: Archival Producer – Freelance
Rosemary Rotondi: Archival Producer – Freelance
Hilary McHone: Archival Producer – Freelance
Solomon Polshek: Archival Producer – Freelance
Lea Donovan: Archival Producer, Rights & Clearances Consultant – Freelance
Katy Jones Garrity: Archival Producer – Cabbage Leaf Pictures
Willy Fines: Archival Producer – Freelance
Julia Squilla: Archival Producer, Story Producer – Freelance
Melissa Saucedo: Archival Producer, Editor – Freelance

Christina D. Bartson: Archival Producer – Freelance
Kate Sangway: Archival Producer – Freelance
Max Segal: Archival Producer, Rights & Clearances Consultant – Freelance
Peter Goldberg: Archival Producer – Freelance
Chloe Kurabi: Archival AP, Archival Researcher – Freelance
Michelle Moy: Filmmaker/ Documentary Producer – Independent
Debra McClutchy: Documentary filmmaker, Archival Producer – Freelance
Olivia Hamilton: Archival AP, Archival Researcher – Freelance
Jameka Autry, Documentary filmmaker, Archival Producer – Freelance
Rebecca Z Stern: Archival Producer – Freelance
Jennifer Troyer: Archival Producer – Freelance
Helen Dobrowski: Documentary filmmaker, Archival Producer -Freelance
Catalina Curbishley Esnaola: Archive Researcher – Freelance
Laura Tusi: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Michael Pickett: Archival Producer – Freelance
Olivia Di Poi: Archival Producer – Macrofilm
Kiersten Leigh Johnson :Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Rochelle Widdowson: Director, Archive Producer and journalist – Freelance
Gregor Murbach: Archive Producer – Freelance
Tiffany Hagger: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Kate Owen: Archive Producer – Freelance
Stuart Brown: Archive Producer – Freelance
Elijah Stevens: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Sarah Katz: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Katz Tale Media
Laura Coxson: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Wyatt Stone: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Susan Johnson: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Katy Haas: Archival Producer, Documentary Filmmaker – Freelance
James Heath: Archive Producer – Freelance
Josh Margolis: Archival Producer, Filmmaker – Freelance
Rebecca O’Connor Thompson: Archive Producer – Freelance
Alessia Petitto: Archive Producer & Archive Researcher – Freelance
Tirzah Brott: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Lucas Frank: Producer – Skiff Mountain Films
Sabrina Worth: Archival Producer – Freelance
Manon Blackman: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Zoë Kase: Archival Producer, Researcher, Associate Producer – Freelance
Michele Ngo: Producer – Freelance
Lisa Bell Weisdorf: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Magda Gora: Archival Producer, Producer – Freelance
Michele Etcheberry: Archival Associate Producer, Researcher – Freelance
Maggie Oakley: Archival Producer – Freelance
Shawna Brakefield-Haase: Filmmaker, Archival Producer – The Brakefield Company
Libby Kreutz: Archival Producer – Freelance
Allison Ferner: Archival Producer – ADF Films, Inc.
Martina Maio: Archival Producer – Freelance
Alessandra Bellizia: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Maggie Jay Mellor: Archival Producer – Freelance
Claudia Lopez: Archival Producer, Documentary Producer – Freelance
Natasha Sharapova: Archival producer, Filmmaker – Freelance
Stephen Sowers: Archival Producer, Filmmaker – Freelance
Kevina Tidwell: Archival Producer, Librarian, Freelance – Brooklyn Public Library
Hillary Dann: Archival Producer -Freelance
Amory Davis: Archival Producer – Freelance
Tim McAleer: Producer – Florentine Films
Jackie Clary: Archive Producer – Freelance
Cornelia Schnall: Archival Producer & Researcher – Freelance
Judy Aley: Archival Producer – Freelance
Clark Burnett: Associate Producer – Florentine Films

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