Her Morning Elegance

I can’t get this song out of my head, nor this beautiful animation out of my mind’s eye:

Read all about how this video was made here.

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Sita almost free!

Chris Carlson of Diamond Time sends this news:

“we are all approved across the boards with the exception of Memory
Lane Music, who only have a small piece of the song, Mean to Me.”

It will take many months to actually get the contracts from them, and I still need to raise about $45,000 to pay for this limited permission, but films are customarily released right after approvals; Sita Sings the Blues is more or less decriminalized at this point. So it’s time to release her! I have to update the credits and sound designer Greg Sextro is doing some final tweaking of the audio, but we’re hoping to have the film online and free under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License in about a month.

There’s a ton of work that needs to be done: web design, database set-ups, scanning documents, ideally having some ancillary products ready to go (who wants to make open-source merch? talk to us!),  an automated system to give credits to donors….much more work than I can do alone. We’re trying to build a new model for film distribution, one that respects the audience and rewards sharing and freedom. Want to help? Please come to QuestionCopyright.org’s open meeting this Monday February 2 at the Software Freedom Law Center in New York.

See also: Sita’s Distribution Plan.

Duke University tonight – January 26

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M Jan 26 Griffith ( 6pm-6:45pm) | Special Events — prelude to the 7pm screening!
‘Face to Face’ — A public dialogue about copyright, public domain, and filmmaking with public domain expert Jennifer Jenkins and independent filmmaker Nina Paley

M Jan 26  Griffith ( 7pm ) | FVD Showcase (screening & discussion)
Sita Sings the Blues
 (Nina Paley, 2008, 82 min, USA , in English, Color, 35mm)
Director Nina Paley takes an innovative approach to the typical break-up story with this whimsically animated film. Based on RAMAYANA, SITA SINGS THE BLUES follows two broken relationships: Nina’s.– followed by a discussion/Q&A with director Nina Paley + Prof. Srinivas Aravamudan (Dept. of English)!

Win a Dream* Date with Nina(tm)

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above: at a different glamorous, star-studded award thing

I’ve been nominated for a Spirit Award, and I’m auctioning off a DREAM* DATE allowing the lucky winner to attend the glamorous**, star-studded*** Spirit Awards with me. Bidding closes Jan-29-09 19:42:45 PST.

Date: February 21, 2009
Arrivals: 11:30am
Lunch: 12:30 pm
Ceremony: 2:00pm-4:00pm

Location: Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles

Age, race, caste, gender, orientation, marital status no bar. Getting in usually costs at least $2,500 per person.
This is part of a fundraising drive to get my award-winning feature film, Sita Sings the Blues, out of copyright jail.

The lucky winner will get to prance down the Red Carpet with me (photographers! paparazzi! none of whom will know who the hell we are because they all want photos of movie stars), eat whatever they serve for lunch, drink the booze that inevitably flows freely and at film events (I personally don’t drink, so if you’re sober at least you’ll have me to talk to), clap politely, and listen to me yak on and on about copyright reform and freedom of speech. Optional: pick me up from my friends’ house in Glendale (because I don’t drive – I’m a New Yorker!) and enjoy VIP valet parking!

Also you’ll get the satisfaction of supporting Free Speech.

BID HERE! You have until January 29.

*asexual dreams only
**ugh
***the joint’s gonna be crawling with celebrities

Copyright and Film Criticism

Alienating film critics seems like a very bad move for Hollywood, but that’s not stopping them:

YouTube vs. Kevin B. Lee

“When the history of intellectual property law is written, January 12, 2009 should be marked as a decisive moment. It was the day that my friend, fellow House Next Door contributor and sometime filmmaking partner Kevin B. Lee saw his entire archive of critical video essays deleted by YouTube on grounds that his work violated copyright.” more…

Donatin’ for Sita

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Want to donate to the Sita Distribution Project and help get Sita Sings the Blues out of “copyright jail”? Questioncopyright.org is the project’s new Fiscal Sponsor. Donate through them and get a 100% tax writeoff! And the project will get 100% of your donation (minus only what Google Checkout skims).

A word about credits in the film. I’d love to include the name of everyone who donates, and small donations help a lot and are most welcome. But I’m realizing that the names will have to be illegibly tiny to include all of them; or else the credits will go on and on and on and on, which means broadcasters will cut them out and then no one will get to see their names. Unfortunately I think I’m going to have to set some minimum donation amounts to get named in the credits, like $100 maybe. Donations of $1,000 or more get a larger credit under “Production Angels,” and $10,00 or more can be “Executive Producers,” or something like that….Once the film is released, we’ll also have a web site that maintains a list of all (even the smallest) donors (unless they choose to opt out) and that list can keep growing even after the release credits are “set.” Still I love small donations, and I want to encourage them. Any suggestions?

Sita’s Distribution Plan

Dear Audience,

That Roger Ebert article has brought a lot of attention to Sita‘s plight, and you are responding awesomely, as always. Audience, I trust you. So it’s time for me to share with you my distribution plan for Sita:

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First I must decriminalize it to the tune of about $50,000. That’s down from the $220,000 the rights-holders initially quoted. However, that “bargain” price comes with many strings: a “step deal.” This stipulates that for every 5,000 home video units sold (DVD or download sales or on-demand sales) I must pay another $750 per song, meaning $8,250, plus middleman fees (lawyer or negotiator – I’ve already been billed about $10,000 just trying to negotiate with these corporations). Also for every $1million at the box office, I must pay another $3,500 per song, or $38,500.

To put that in perspective, after theaters, distributors, agents, etc. take their cuts and deduct their costs, $1million in theatrical receipts would trickle down to about $30,000 to $80,000 for me. Luckily(?) it’s very unlikely to ever generate that much box office revenue, so I’m safe. DVDs are another story – the corporations measure their fees per unit (it works out to $1.65 per), regardless of how much the DVDs sell for.

But the good news is, promotional copies are traditionally exempted from step deals. Everyone needs to make free promotional copies for reviewers, festival committees, journalists, etc, and those shouldn’t be “taxed” by the licensors.

Which brings us to step two: while making one DVD pressing of 4,999 copies, I will place promotional files of the entire film – at all resolutions, including broadcast-quality, HD, and film-quality image sequences – online at archive.org and as many mirror hosts as volunteer to share it. I will license it either as Creative Commons Share-Alike, or some equivalent of the GNU/Linux license. This will prevent it and any derivative works from ever being copyrighted by anyone. Of course this license won’t apply to the songs, which will remain under copyright by their respective corporate overlords. But clearing the licenses first will decriminalize it, and make it safer to screen in theaters (and theaters will be free to screen it and charge for it without obligation to me). The free online copies are promotional copies.

“But Nina, how will you make money?” The way artists always make money: donations, commissions, grants, patrons, speaking fees. Indie distributors can’t pay anywhere near what it cost me to make the film ($80,000 + $50,000 to clear rights + $160,000 living expenses over the years I made the film + my TIME) but they do lock up the rights for 10+ years. In the Digital Age, distributors function primarily as a barrier between artists and audiences, prohibiting access rather than facilitating it.

I’m betting that you, audience, can find me more money – and certainly wider distribution – than a commercial distributor could. I get wonderful emails from people like you, people who offer to set up little fundraising screenings, who write good reviews, and do lots of things to help. Audiences are so eager to help distribute films! Old-school commercial distributors not only ignore the power of the audience, they actively fight it, calling it “piracy” and “theft” for example. And the audience comes up with much better ideas than I or a distributor could (I didn’t think of doing fundraising screenings, you did). And once I free the film, I won’t have to do any more work on it! You, the audience, can take care of everything.

Here are some ways I imagine copylefting Sita could generate some income for me:

1. Direct donations (aka voluntary payments, aka “pay-what-you-wish”)

2. Ancillary products: t-shirts, pins, toys, books, merchandise. Under a share-alike license these will be open-content as well, but there is little incentive for competitors to invest in producing such merch when it is already available (and much incentive if a certain product is not available, which is good). Any companies producing merch could use their sharing profits with me as part of their marketing; fans are much more interested in seeing their $$ go directly to the artist, than being all eaten up by some publisher or distributor.

3. Sponsorships. We expect the film to spread far and wide under a free license, and a sponsoring credit would be excellent publicity for anyone who cares to make it. Corporations sponsor shows on Public Television all the time for this reason (and under the free license, Sita can also be broadcast anywhere. At least one PBS station says they’re committed to broadcasting it.).

4. DVD sales and auctions. Although the film may be downloaded and copied for free, some will prefer an “official” signed DVD from the artist. These could be sold directly by me in a limited edition (of 4,999), and/or auctioned online.

5. Voluntary payments from public screenings. We encourage the film to be shown in theaters, schools, etc. and anyone can set up a screening and charge admission. They may voluntarily send some of the revenue on to me. Most exhibitors already expect to pay something to distributors, and although this is completely voluntary, we expect many will be willing to do this.

6. Selling 35mm film prints to collectors, archives, museums, and (hopefully) distributors willing to try a non-exclusive service model instead of the existing licensing model. Prints cost about $2,500 to make; I could sell them for $5,000 each. This also outsources the expensive work of archiving.

7. Probably many more that we just haven’t thought of yet!

Now dear audience, if you’ve read this far, what do you think of this? Maybe some of you want to help. Here’s some help I could use right now:

Money
I’m about to take out a $50,000 loan, and am already deep in debt from having to hold on to the film. But obviously I can’t guarantee I’ll make it back. Donors and sponsors will, as always, be acknowledged in the credits of the final version. Big donation? Big credit. Plus I can modify the “intermission” scene to include messages from really, really big sponsors – like $50,000 sponsors – so get in touch if you’re interested. Questioncopyright.org is hoping to arrange Fiscal Sponsorship for the Sita distribution project, so that you could get a tax write-off by donating to them. They would pass the whole thing on to me without skimming any of it (most nonprofits skim 7 to 10%). Questioncopyright.org is AWESOME.

Even with the $50,000, I still may not be able to clear all the songs. So far only Warner-Chappell and EMI have informally agreed to those terms, but they haven’t issued contracts yet, and they can still change their minds for any reason. The rest of the rightsholders are under no obligation to agree. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, will they work with me or against me? Hence my next request:

Is there a lawyer in the house?
I mean a good, progressive, Free-Culture-oriented lawyer. Right now we have questioncopyright.org‘s legal counsel, whose experience lies in Free Software. The California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation hasn’t yet agreed to help directly (maybe they’ll change their minds!) but is looking for additional pro bono legal help for me here in New York. The coolest legal work seems to be in Software; I haven’t yet found anyone in Entertainment Law who really gets it. But if you’re out there, please get in touch! Let’s make a Sita Legal Defense team.

Love,

–Nina

Roger Ebert is my Homeboy

We’re both from Urbana, IL, where I grew up watching At The Movies on WILL TV. And now, he gives a thumbs-up to Sita:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/12/having_wonderful_time_wish_you.html 

Sita in Dubai

Here are Sita‘s upcoming screening dates at the Dubai International Film Festival:

1.Monday, December 15, 18:15, Festival City, Cinema 8*
2.Wednesday, December 17, 18:30, Mall of the Emirates, Cinema 6*

Does this blog have any readers in Dubai? Comment away. Maybe I’ll get to meet my comrade-in-death-threats-from-Hindutvas, MF Hussein, who lives in exile there.

You Wouldn’t Invade Poland…

…but you’d commit genocide by downloading feature films:

See the original anti-piracy ad here.

November Sita screenings

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We have a whole mess o’ festival screenings coming up in November. The ones I will actually be at, in person:

NEW YORK, Nov 8 and 9:

Saturday, Nov. 8, 11:00 am
Sunday, Nov. 9, 11:00 am
IFC Center (323 6th Ave @W 4th St., Greenwich Village)

These matinee screenings are part of the New York Children’s Film Festival. (Sita isn’t exactly a kid’s movie, but it plays very well to older kids and teens and their parents)

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 13:

Nov. 13: 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm with a reception in between.
Opening the San Francisco International Animation Festival
Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema (Battery @ Clay st, downtown SF)

NEW YORK again:

Thursday Nov. 20, 6:00 pm
Saturday Nov. 22, 3:00 pm

MoMA (11 W. 53 Street, between 5th & 6th aves)
In the Film exhibition Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You (Gotham Award nominees)

Monday November 24: Panel Discussion
The five nominees for this year’s Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You award gather for a panel discussion illustrated with film clips. Program 90 min.
MoMA‘s Theater 3, mezzanine, Education & Research Center

More November screenings that I won’t be able to attend, but I hope you go if you’re in the area:

Ft. Lauderdale (FL) Int’l Film Festival, Nov 7
World Film Festival of Bangkok (Thailand), Oct 24-Nov 2
Winnipeg Animation Festival (MN, Canada), Oct 29-Nov 2
Festival voix d’Etoiles (France), Oct 30-Nov 2
Moscow Big Cartoons Festival (Russia), Nov 1-16
Leeds Int’l Film Festival (UK), Nov 4-16
Holland Animation Festival (The Netherlands), Nov 5-9
Asheville Film Festival (NC), Nov 6-9
Flip Animation Festival (UK), Nov 6-8
Olympia Film Festival (WA), Nov 14
Beyond Borders Film Festival, (MN), Nov 15

Check out the occasionally-updated full screening list here.

Congratulations to Greg Sextro

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Greg Sextro was Sita‘s sound designer, and my closest collaborator on the film. He also did the sound design for Bill Plympton‘s latest feature, Idiots and Angels, which just won BEST SOUND at the 2nd Annual 2morrow International Festival of Contemporary Cinema in Moscow. Yay!

יום האנימציה הבין לאומי

I never learned Hebrew so I don’t know what that headline means – I just cut and pasted the name of the jpeg Gilat sent me. I do know Sita Sings the Blues will screen with Hebrew subtitles at Holon Cinimateq/Animateq on November 12 for Animation Day. I won’t be there (I’ll be in San Francisco) but my ASIFA-Israel friends will be. Tell your Hebrew-knowing friends!

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Publicity Bitch sez: Awards!

It doesn’t come off as humble, but my alter-ego Publicity Bitch has some exciting awards news about Sita Sings the Blues.

First, from the the 37th Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal:

the prestigious Z Télé Grand Prize – prestigious because it is voted upon by those who actually buy tickets to films in the festival – went to Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley’s riotous animated musical appropriation of the Indian lit classic, Ramayana, billed as “the Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.” (link)

Thank you, Montreal!

Second, today IFP announced its nominees for the 2008 Gotham Awards:

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You™

Afterschool
Antonio Campos, director; Josh Mond, Sean Durkin, producers
Meadowlark
Taylor Greeson, producer/director
The New Year Parade
Tom Quinn, director; Steve Beal, Tom Quinn, producers
Sita Sings the Blues
Nina Paley, producer/director
Wellness
Jake Mahaffy, director; Jake Mahaffy, Jeff Clark, producers

Thanks, IFP!

And as always, big thanks to you friends, supporters, and viewers for helping my little film make its way in the world.

Meet Aseem Chhabra!

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In addition to being a professional journalist, desi cultural maven, and all-around entertaining guy, Aseem was the voice of “Shadow Puppet #1″ in Sita Sings the Blues. He’ll be representing the film at some upcoming Southern California screenings*:

Monday, Oct. 13, 8:30 pm
RedCat Cinema
631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles CA

Thursday, October 16, 7:00pm
with sound designer Greg Sextro!
ArtPower at UC San Diego/The Loft
9500 Gilman Drive #0078, La Jolla, CA 92093

Have a great time, you crazy kids!

 

*which I’m sitting out due to illness