NARA debuts “The Sailor and the Seagull” at Beijing film festival

This week, NARA will be premiering a film halfway across the globe in Beijing, China, for the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF). Our film preservation lab will be represented by Supervisory Motion Picture Preservation Specialist Criss Kovac.

The National Archives will be represented this year at the International Federation of Film Archives conference in Beijing. We will be showing a 1949 film called The Sailor and the Seagull. This is the first time NARA has contributed a film to the conference.

“We rejoined FIAF last spring, and it’s required for us to send a member to the conference each spring,” Kovac said. NARA and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are the only American members in the approximately 200-delegate conference. NARA and UCLA are tied for the largest film archives.

For the first time, NARA will be contributing a film for screening at the week-long conference. The theme this year is animation.

“We’ve digitally restored a title called The Sailor and the Seagull, a Navy recruitment film from 1949,” Kovac said. “We chose the film because it was done, at the time, by an emerging film studio called the United Productions of America.” The United Productions of America (UPA) was an animation studio that produced industrial films, World War II training films, and theatrical shorts for Columbia Pictures, including the Mr. Magoo series.

The film preservation team began digitizing The Sailor and the Seagull in January 2012, a project mainly helmed by Motion Picture Preservation Specialist Bryce Lowe. To give an idea of how long restoration takes, Lowe spent more than 80 hours restoring and cleaning up the 12-minute film.

“Film takes, on average, four times longer to restore in the digital workflow than the traditional photo chemical-based workflow,” Kovac explained. “It’s so labor-intensive. This film is a special case because most of the tools we’d normally use on restoration, we couldn’t use on this film because animation has much softer lines.”

The digital restoration was completed in full high-definition to get the film to look as good as possible. “It’s an important step for the Archives to be making because most theaters now only show in digital,” Kovac said. “It might not be a good tool long-term for preservation, but it’s good for access. And it gives recognition for and highlights the work that we do.”

Asked if she was excited to be representing NARA in Beijing, Kovac just laughed.

“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it!” she admitted. “I’m excited for us to be reinstated in FIAF. And it’s the first time we’ve contributed. At the conference, I’ll be joining the technical committee. I’m looking forward to good collaboration on lots of issues that archives face.”

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