Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, 2008)

Filmmaker Nina Paley has created a wonderful little film based on the ancient story of The Ramayana called Sita Sings the Blues. The tagline "the greatest break-up story ever told" is apt, but more on that in a bit.

The film has been licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License, which basically means you may download it, modify it, distribute it, but may not copyright it. Paley feels that culture needs to follow the Open Source Software community, and that those in the public who can afford to support artists generally will. This is similar to Amanda Palmer's "pay what you can" philosophy. Here is a snippet from the film's webpage:

I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

You don't need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom.

There is a long story to The Ramayana, of course, but in essence Sita (the world's most beautiful woman) is betrothed to Prince Rama (an avatar of Vishnu) who has been banished for fourteen years. Sita goes with him into exile and is kidnapped by Ravana, the king of Lanka (Ceylon, or modern Sri Lanka) where she awaits her husband who she knows will save her.

The story is interspersed with discussions about the characters and the many changes to the story over time, as well as the inconsistencies (such as Sita leaving a trail of jewelry for Rama to follow, though apparently she went into exile with nothing). Also the nature of the characters versus their perceived good or evil reputations.

A big part of the film is the music of Annette Hanshaw, a popular jazz singer from the 1920s and '30s. The songs make up the bulk of Sita's dialogue and are fitted in so nicely with the story it is as though they were written for The Ramayana explicitly.

A fully animated film, it takes on many styles. There are "South Park" styled cut-out animations, as well as mixed media. In all it is a beautiful thing to watch, and a story that, like most ancient epics, cannot but be enjoyed. You can watch or download at the film's website, or check it out at Network Awesome, a community curated web "television" network.

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