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Feature Film

Sita Sings the Blues: A Free Culture Success Story

Sita Sings the Blues

Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues–now a film that everybody can (and should) watch–continues to make an impact in surprising and unexpected ways. Last week, the above Reuters photo by Krishnendu Halder appeared online with the following caption: “Members of laughter clubs attend a session during ‘World Laughter Day’ celebrations in Hyderabad, India.” The celebration in India included a huge sculpture of the mythical figure Ravana based on Nina’s design from the film.

Consider for a second the amazing nature of this photo’s contents. Nina Paley made Sita Sings the Blues in her apartment–all by her lone self, on a shoestring budget, using a desktop computer. One short year after its debut, with absolutely no promotional budget, no theatrical distribution and little mainstream media coverage, the film has traveled around the globe and fans are creating sculptures based on her work.

Nina has made it possible for everybody to see her film by placing her film into Creative Commons and allowing it to be shared without copyright restrictions. Conventional thinking leads us to believe that this type of distribution is impossible and that global visibility is only possible through millions of dollars worth of marketing and advertising. Paley, however, has entrusted the distribution to her audience and (surprise, surprise) people are watching her film and building a community around it. The success of her experiment proves that independent artists with limited means can indeed compete on a world-wide playing field, not by trying to mimic strategies of entertainment conglomerates, but by taking advantage of ideas like Creative Commons licensing and employing comprehensive online distribution strategies.