Saturday, May 09, 2009

A Sweet, Inventive Film with a Fascinating Backstory


Sita Sings The Blues (official site here) is a charming animated feature that updates and comments on Indian epic The Ramayana - no previous knowledge of which is required - with 1920's songs by a near-forgotten chanteuse (Annette Hanshaw, who has a fan-based Myspace with song samples here; check out "If You Want the Rainbow," my favourite song used in the film). The songs are great, the animation inventive and pleasing to behold, the politics sympathetic (since the film identifies with the sufferings of Sita); and the "updated" commentary on The Ramayana by some of Paley's South Asian friends is quite funny and irreverent. If you're interested, I'd advise going to the Vancity on the 18th to catch all four of Paley's animated shorts as a bonus; the film makes for a pleasant night out indeed (if lighter and sweeter than my usual fare, I must admit - though it does have flying eyeballs and lots of demons).
The film also has a very interesting backstory, particularly for anyone interested in copyrights and copylefts, Creative Commons and Share Alike licensing, the Free Culture movement and such. If I've got the story right, while the copyright on Hanshaw's songs, which were an important part of Paley's inspiration, had lapsed, the songwriting rights had not ("For me to get permission from them to use these 80-year old songs would have cost me more money than it cost to make the entire film," she says on her site). Once the film was made, Paley found herself faced with insurmountable fees if she wanted to ever sell her work. So she can't - not this film; like John Oswald's initial Plunderphonics project, Paley is more-or-less forbidden to make money on Sita Sings The Blues, if she wants people to see it. Which she does; so she's put it out into the world for free. If you don't want to go to the theatre to see it, you can find free download info for it here, with her sanction. More of the backstory can be found in Paley's FAQ, which opens onto a world of other links.

Trust me, though: you don't want to download this film, you want to see it with friends in a theatre. It's bound to be much more fun that way, as a collective experience with shared laughter and no opporunity to press pause; and the songs will sound much, much better. It plays at the Vancity until May 22nd.


1 comment:

ammacinn said...

More from Paley on Free Culture:

http://www.questioncopyright.org/understanding_free_content

A.