Nina Paley's animated film, Sita Sings the Blues, has been mentioned here several times before. It's a retelling of the classic Indian epic Ramayana, featuring the 1920s jazz recordings of singer Annette Hanshaw, interspersed with the story of Nina's own troubled marriage-- and despite critical accolades, it's been languishing due to copyright issues surrounding the 80-year-old Hanshaw songs. But things seem to be finally looking up for Ms. Paley: she has worked out a distribution plan, the movie will be broadcast on New York PBS station WNET on March 7, and the whole thing is finally available online, at thirteen.org. [more inside]
Why is Nina Paley depressed? Her debut feature film, Sita Sings the Blues — which she animated herself in Adobe Flash — screened to general acclaim at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. It won the best feature-film award at this year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival and best American feature at the Avignon Film Festival. Oh, wait, here’s the problem — she can’t find a distributor willing to take a chance on her unconventional, very personal film. (This is a bad year to be shopping an indie.) Because she doesn’t have “synch rights” to the compositions underlying the Annette Hanshaw songs that inspired the story — and now constitute its backbone — she can’t give the film away. Having invested so much in striking prints of the film for festivals and making screener DVDs for press, she’s too broke to pay the $220,000 it would take to clear the 11 songs for distribution. (Don’t miss the spreadsheet showing exactly how much the various players expect her to pay to clear each 80-year-old song.) And now she notes, with tongue maybe half in cheek, she may be on the hook for felony copyright infringement. Also, she’s newly homeless. What’s an indie animator to do? Previously discussed here and here.
Sita Sings the Blues is a feature film (in progress) combining the ancient Indian epic Ramayana, the 1920's blues vocals of Annette Hanshaw, and classically informed but modern animation. The animator wanted to envision what the Ramayana would look like told through the eyes of its much loved and much maligned female character, Sita. This is not the first time the Ramayana has been retold from Sita's perspective, Sanctuary, a play by Hema Ramakrishna is a feminist reinterpretation that has garnered a lot of controversy. Retelling the Ramayana is part of the tradition.
Sita Sings the Blues. Nina Paley's animated retelling of Sita's story from the Ramayana, with vocals by Annette Hanshaw (torrents here, via Boing Boing).