Cartoon Brew TV #17: Sita Sings the Blues Preview

We’ve got a special treat today on Cartoon Brew TV. Instead of our usual short film presentation, we’re offering an 11-minute excerpt from Nina Paley’s animated feature Sita Sings the Blues. Regular readers of Cartoon Brew already know that both Brewmasters are huge fans of this animated film which is a startlingly original mashup of Indian mythology, contemporary heartbreak and 1920s American jazz.

We’ve praised it a number of times on the website, including here and here. Another big fan of the film is Roger Ebert who will be showing Sita at his Illinois film festival in April.

The film, however, cannot be distributed because of copyright issues related to its use of songs recorded by Annette Hanshaw eighty years ago. Paley, who made the film entirely by herself and is currently in debt, cannot afford to legally license the music. She is exploring alternative distribution models but for the moment the film is only playing in select festival venues.

This excerpt is from the start of the film and offers a glimpse of the different animation styles used throughout the film.The director, Nina Paley, will be participating in the Brew comments if you have any questions for her. For more information, visit the film’s website at SitaSingstheBlues.com or NinaPaley.com.


  • martin

    GREAT!!! I really love the clip and hope to see the film on whatever format it gets distributed in.(itunes?) Was the film done mostly in flash? I love the use of cutouts mixed with cartoons,cant wait to see it great job on a very original film. I hope you can work out a benificial deal so more people can buy/watch it.

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/marmaladearmy Doug

    Thank you CBTV and thank you Nina Paley! This has made my day.

    For Nina – How did you go about researching this material, and how long did that phase of the production take you? The amount of characters and history is quite staggering.

    And also, I’m somewhat reminded of Richard Williams “The Thief” in the boldness of the color pallete. Is/was he an influence at all? I’m an animation fan so forgive this question if its worded somewhat stupidly.

  • Oluseyi

    Brilliant. Looking forward to seeing it as soon as I get a chance here in NYC – the blog says it’s showing at the 92nd Street Y on Feb 4.

    I wonder, though; didn’t Ms. Paley anticipate copyright difficulties with the Henshaw recordings? Over in video games (where I spend most of my time), we tell new independents over and over NOT to make “tribute” games or situate their works in others’ universes, because of the IP issues. Whether the recording should have passed into the public domain is a separate discussion, but if you’re simply focused on the fact of trying to create and publish a work, Ms. Paley had to have known this was a highly likely outcome.

    I know Ms. Paley reads and responds to this blog from time to time. I’m hoping she can shed some light on this situation for those, like me, who are late to the party.

  • Jay Sabicer

    Fantastic storytelling, with the group of friends/hindu gods having the characters wait and adapt to their roles whilst trying to get the story straight. It has me hungry for more. The flash animation is not your typical vector-stretching you see on the web much too often these days. I’m curious on how easy (or difficult) was the transition from conventional to computer-based animation for you?

    The hard work you’ve done shows and it is quite unfair that a matter of greedy music publishers is keeping this from being seen in total. I hope Mr. Ebert can use what ever pull he possesses to make this film available to the masses. I’ll be ready with cash in hand when it does.

  • http://www.moonshadow.es Alberto A-P

    The movie looks gorgeous and I’m really looking forward to watch it in it’s entirety.

    About the distribution deal, have you thought about doing it via de European Union? Music copyright expires like 25 years before here than in the USA. You could do a region-free DVD, a la Dr. Horrible.

  • Joel Brinkerhoff

    This is someone who understands what animation does best. Thank you for a beautiful film. I hope to see it on the big screen.

  • Wolfgang

    WONDERFUL!!! I absolutely LOVE the CLIP!!! The story looks excellent and visually the style is beautiful.

    Nina: As i was saying the story looks excellent!! Can you tell me please the process and techniques that you went through to write the story and how much time it take..?…(i don`t know the Ramayana story so please don`t reveal anything about the plot… wink…wink…)

    Thanks and Best of Luck!
    Kind Regards

  • http://mattjonezanimation.blogspot.com Matt Jones

    Wonderful! Incredible achivement. Look forward to seeing the full film

  • http://www.daxnorman.com Dax Norman

    The Film looks amazing and inspiring. Can’t wait to see the whole thing. I wish you the Best of luck.

  • Charles

    Makes me want to make a film of my own. inspiring to say the least.

  • Chiskop

    I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for a very long long time. I read the rave reviews, the excited brewmasters. now, i’ve seen it. thanks. Though i feel bad for not liking it. it’s such a let down. it’s an okay animation piece.

    Though i really wish ms. paley would begin a new project, very very soon and let go of Sita and copyright issues quickly. such fights kill the artistic soul. you become a hollywood hater.

    Goodnight and goodluck.

  • Hameed Shaukat

    Absolutely fantastic! Can’t wait to see the rest of the film.

  • Saturnome

    Wow. I was intrigued because of all the good talk, but know I really want to see this film.

  • Mike Johnson

    Truly stunning visuals. Truly. Stunning.

    And such personality! My God, that cat at the beginning had more personality than the entire run of the Garfield series put together!

    I was especially taken by the mixture of visual styles, which is quite appealing in the case of this film. I truly look forward to having Sita ravish my visual senses in full when it becomes available!

    This is really great ART…it engages the senses as all great art does, it seems timeless as all great art does, and I know that this will be appreciated for a LONG time after all of us are only memories to some future generation, as great art always remains throughout history.

    While I am sure that Pixar or Disney or any other animation factory could have made Sita LOOK different, none of them could have made it BETTER, and given the sheer number of egos involved, none of them would probably have even come close.

    You have created (or I suppose I should say “are still in the process of creating”) a one-woman miracle of sorts.

    You should be immensely proud of this Nina, and take heart that the struggle to bring Sita to the masses is destined to succeed. Too much momentum is building to stop it now!

    Best wishes to you for your success, and thanks for gifting all of us with your film!

  • TStevens

    I’m sure you have already thought of this but I’ll try it anyway. Why not go to hardware and software makers to see if you can get several to sponsor the film. I think I heard that you produced the film on a Mac using Flash. Is there a chance that Adobe and Apple would want to sponsor Sita? You are clearly becoming an underground icon so it would make good marketing sense for a larger firm like Adobe to say that a film maker like yourself used their product. I would even think that the Wienstien’s would be pretty hip to this project.

    You may also look into doing a micro loan deal where people invest ten dollars or so in your project with the possibility of making 10 percent interest on their investment. You don’t garuntee anything unless you make your money back. The hope is that three or four thousand people will donate $10 to the cause and maybe get $11 back. A micro loan makes people feel like they have a vested interest in seeing something succeed. Paul Hogan more or less did the low tech version of this back when he made Crocodile Dundee. The key thing that you have is a completed film.

  • http://fluidtoons.blogspot.com Brett W. Thompson

    I really, really, really love this film and admire Nina so much.

    It was a huge hit at the Montezuma International Film Festival. We ended up showing it multiple times!

  • http://justforspite.blogspot.com Gene Hole

    Still frames don’t do this film justice, and having watched this, I am in awe. stunning- visually- but more so in the methods with which the story is being told. The blending of the disparate styles is perfectly done and well-justified. I only wish I could see the whole thing!

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    WOW that is fantastic. Still haven’t had a chance to see the whole thing but I am definitely going to. The design, the timing, the humor, the whole thing is really spectacular in this little clip. Fantastic.

  • Tillie

    Oh what a shame this is being held hostage by copyright issues! This was a great clip and it actually made me laugh out loud (seriously, people are staring at me). Was that whole thing scripted? It sounded so fluid and natural and the animation played off it nicely. Nina, I eagerly await the day I can watch it in its entirety and hope your film makes it through this rough patch! Good luck!!

  • http://ryuuseipro.deviantart.com/ John Paul Cassidy

    I’d love to see the rest of this movie sometime! It’s very captivating.

  • Sara

    I’m quite taken with what I’ve seen of the film so far. The blend of styles is interesting and not something I see much of. I hope I’ll get a chance to view the movie in its entirety someday, as it looks like a lot of fun.

    One little comment for the Brewmasters: I’m not sure about the wisdom of referring to one of the film’s sources as “Indian mythology” when you’re talking about characters and events that are part of a religion that is still widely practiced today You wouldn’t say that Bob McKnight’s short cartoon which you just posted about was exploring a major tenant of “Christian mythology,” would you?

    Other than that minor quibble, I thank you for sharing a piece of this film with us.

  • http://www.mynameispj.com PJ

    Wow wow wow wow

    That was almost mesmerizing, the whole thing

    Wow wow wow

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    Thanks gang!

    @martin:
    Yep, mostly Flash, edited with Final Cut Pro. Also some After Effects and Synthetik Studio Artist in there.

    @Doug:
    I read as many Ramayanas as I could get my hands on, looked at as much Ramayana art as I could find, and basically was obsessed with the Ramayana for a few years. I was well into production when I finally saw a butchered DVD version of Williams’ “The Thief and the Cobbler.” I admired his animation greatly, especially the moving Persian clouds, since I’d been studying Persian-influenced paintings. But it wasn’t a direct influence – I couldn’t animate like that if I tried, and I’d already designed and colored everything in “Sita”. I was however “inspired” by the story of how that film was butchered by its investors; I swore I would never let that anything like that happen to “Sita” even if it meant I’d starve.

    @Oluseyi:
    The interview clips here will answer your questions.

    @Alberto:
    The music is American and held by American corporations, so it’s as illegal in Europe as it is in the US, thanks to international treaties.

    @Wolfgang :
    I know this sounds crazy, but the story mostly wrote itself. I just tried to surrender to it.

    @Mike:
    you gush, I *blush*

    @TStevens:
    There’s been some interest from sponsors, including Apple, but no deals yet.
    Re: microloans, that’s worth considering if the management and repayments can be automated. Do you know of such a system?

    @Tillie:
    Much of it was unscripted. The narration was completely unscripted, just a real (and typical) Ramayana conversation among Indians.

    @everyone else:
    Thank you, I’m really happy the film is being seen and enjoyed.

  • george

    I really enjoyed and wished to see more. Copyrights are the issue?
    I think if the rest of the film is as good as many say then it could enjoy success if released in theatres, as it all ready has many rave reviews and buzz. I recently saw Waltz with Bashir and the theatre was packed, and this short clip, imo was better. This drama could actually play to Nina’s favor, as the tale around the movie is interesting as well.

    Is the issue funding for the right to use the copyrighted material? What is the copyrighted material? Can it be replaced? Can the rights be bought?

    This drama could actually play to Nina’s favor, as the tale around the movie is interesting as well and, at least for me, has made me more interested in seeing the film. Great reviews and this clip helped too. And many of the images would be really good marketing tools. I can allready see it on subways and bus stations. Im rooting for Nina, good luck.

  • Shmorky

    I usually really hate puppet-style flash animation, but I tend to be more forgiving when it’s done by independent artists… this… this is actually blowing me away. It’s amazing and beautiful and there’s so much variety. You’ve taken my preconceived notions and destroyed them.

  • http://www.willkrause.com Will Krause

    Hooray! I was nicely surprised to see all of the variety in the style of the animation. Great work, Nina!

  • http://www.coffeeroll.com JPDJ

    Wow. Wonderful. Will it be playing in a DC or Philly festival anytime soon?

  • http://www.coffeeroll.com JPDJ

    My apologies for double-posting but I forgot to add that I’ve been a fan of Nina’s flash animations since “Fetch” a few years back. Anyone remember that?

  • http://www.cartoonsolutions.com Ryan Simmons

    Really wonderful work. I am impressed by your ability to infuse so many different styles: shows what a great artist you truly are. Hang in there, something will happen distribution-wise in time, this is too good to pass by.

  • kenneth kahn

    The full version of “Sita sings the Blues” is now available online at:

    http://www.thirteen.org/sites/reel13/blog/watch-sita-sings-the-blues-online/347/

  • Saturnome

    I finally saw Sita Sing the Blues at a festival in town yesterday, a true miracle that this was shown here. I usually hate going to the cinema and prefer to watch at home, but the crowd was fantastic, a rare sight! Maybe it was because the film was just as fantastic. I hope to get the DVD.

  • http://acmecartoons.blogspot.com/ Keith

    I want to thank you guys for introducing me to Sita! The strangest, most beautiful and creative thing I’ve seen in a long, long time!