Feature Film

Sita Sings the Blues in the NY Times

Men Working

Nina Paley’s animated feature Sita Sings the Blues is the subject of a write-up in this Sunday’s NY Times. It’s a delight to see such a deserving piece of indie animation receive copious amounts of attention from the mainstream media. Of particular interest are the latest developments in how Nina is tackling the film’s music copyright issues and finding a way to make her film available for public consumption:

Because of an exception in the copyright act, public television stations can broadcast music without having to clear individual licenses, and “Sita” will be shown on the New York PBS station WNET on March 7, after which it will be available on the station’s Web site. “My thing,” Ms. Paley said in November, sounding glum, “is that I just want people to see it.”

Recently, though, the licensing fee was negotiated down to approximately $50,000, and “Sita” is close to being sprung from what Ms. Paley calls “copyright jail.” Still, she hopes to release it in a manner as alternative as her film. Using the free software movement – dedicated to spreading information without copyright restrictions – as her model, she has decided to offer “Sita” at no charge online and let the public become her distributor.

Sita Sings the Blues was my 2008 pick of the year for best animated feature, and we also presented the first eleven minutes of the film a few weeks ago on Cartoon Brew TV. Watch it below:

  • This is such a remarkable film, it’s ashame that it won’t be Oscar-eligible now.

    “Sita” is one of very few works that deserves acclaim.

  • Jay Sabicer

    This is encouraging news. Hopefully, other PBS stations will follow suit.

    I do believe Nina should be compensated for her work (everyone’s gotta eat), if Public TV doesn’t offer her enough, perhaps she can setup a PayPal account that her appreciative fans could contribute to her directly. Other weblog authors have made significant income from their efforts (John K comes to mind). It could send a message to those hindering full distribution to figure out a more reasonable solution to messy intellectual property problems.

  • Sam

    Wow this film is visually stunning, engaging and hilarious. Very fresh and exciting. I want to see the rest of it! Will it be on DVD soon? I’m all over this!

  • Boggles mind

    I saw the rough cut at Platform and thought it was a pretty danged neat film! The indignation that she could not use copyrighted music, even if the U.S. was the only place enforcing it, was clearly way out of place. Granted the music is perfect. But perfect is able to be replicated. I had a soft chuckle when she stamped her feet and railed against the injustice of a nation passing laws during one forum at Platform.

    I think we all understand where she’s coming from and I am very sure we all feel very happy for her awesome work even if she made more trouble for herself than she needed to by insisting on using someone else’s work.

  • I live in NYC & looking forward to watching this on WNET (Channel 13 as we call it here).

  • Donnywell

    I agree with Boggles mind. I saw this at a screening and thought it was visually wonderful but am totally perplexed and (yeah) a bit pissed that she’s making such a big stink about the music (she feels the heirs of the song writers shouldn’t have to get paid.) It kind of mars the whole experience (for me, anyway.)

    Maybe I’m a rare soul, but I think artists (this includes musicians and songwriters) should get compensated for their work. And when you write a huge huge hit song (like “Mean to Me”, one of the featured songs in Sita Sings the Blues,) you deserve to continue getting paid for it.

    I think she should have done her homework before she started this enormous task and used different music. The fact is, I thought the Annette Henshaw music was an annoying part of the film (guess you have to really like that style to be into it.) I would’ve liked the film better if the music was different. I went with two friends and they agreed with me.

    Either way (and in spite of it), I wish her the best for the effort.

  • Oluseyi

    I saw Sita Sings the Blues at 92Y Tribeca a little over a week ago, and enjoyed Nina’s Q&A – but it’s clear she hasn’t remotely thought through the copyright issues, and she’s allowed herself to become a pawn of Question Copyright. I think copyright terms are entirely too long, and don’t think the rights should necessarily be transferable (ie, keep it to compensating the originators), but that doesn’t mean that you can appropriate the works of others without permission or compensation. The law is the law, and creativity often springs from working around constraints and restrictions.

    Ironically, I felt the Annette Henshaw songs were the weakest element of the entire film.

    Anyway, I’m circling March 7 on my calendar. WNET13’s a great channel; here’s hoping there isn’t a key NBA game on that evening… :-P

  • jim

    I’m right with Boggles mind et. al. (and also attended the Platform screening, coincidentally).

    The film’s a nice piece of work and a very impressive achievement, but Nina has made her bed and it seems to me that her victim’s outrage is unfounded. (Indeed, laws can be unfair, and fighting to change them is a cherished freedom we enjoy. But public tantrums calling for an exception after disregarding or conveniently misinterpreting a restriction is merely sad all around.)

    On her blog, Nina resorts to name-calling when people disagree with her on this issue and I personally find it all very off-putting. I don’t expect I’ll be cheerily writing out any donation checks in this case.

  • Rich

    THIRTEEN.ORG will be streaming Sita Sings the Blues online (in good quality!) on the Reel 13 website starting February 26, and the film will be broadcast as part of Reel 13 on March 7 at 10:45 pm (ET) on Thirteen in NY.

  • Phil

    The Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University will be screening Sita on Feb 27 and 28, and Nina Paley will be introducing the film in person on the 27th. Here’s the event website for more info:



    oh! that is so wrong!!!! I HAVE TO SEE THE WHOLE THING!!!! NOW!!!

  • Wes Phillips

    I TiVoed SSTB on Saturday and WNET got the running time wrong, truncating the film prematurely–well, I’m sure the station showed the entire film, but you can’t prove it by me.