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Elisabeth Bartlett is blogging the festival scene from Cannes to Los Angeles.
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Sita (and Nina) Sing the Blues, but not for Long

Sita opened the San Francisco International Animation Film Festival this weekend, where I got to see it, and where director Nina Paley (check her blog) and Sound Designer Greg Sextro were in attendance for some q & a.

IFC Film Center, New York, Sunday Nov. 9, 2008. Photo by Ken Levis.

Paley introduced her movie, and having lived in the Bay Area before, she was awe-struck to be back introducing a movie she made. "It's really weird to be in this position. I've been to so many movies at the Embarcadero Cinema, and this is the only one I've been to where I'm standing up here," she said.



The film opens with a sort of music video, and the animation and music were immediately so much like nothing I'd seen before that I wondered what I was in for. Soon enough the soothing visuals and music lured me into relaxation and I was entranced. In short, Sita Sings the Blues is: about the Indian Epic the Ramayana, and Nina Paley's break up with her husband. Sweet blusey songs of Annette Hanshaw accompany the story, and it's told through different styles of animation, mainly flash, that Paley did all on her own. It's the first feature length work of animator Nina Paley, though she has been animating since 1998 and has a series of other short works.

To me, the movie is special for many reasons.

One reason is that the story of the Ramayana is told not only through the main characters Sita and her Rama, but also by three shadow puppet narrators who fill in the blanks, explaining the story for audience. Their seemingly on
the spot narration and forgetfulness is endearing and relatable, and provides a lot of laugh out loud moments.

We learned from Paley in the Q&A that, as it seemed, these narrators weren't scripted, but friends
of Paley's who she asked questions to in the studio one day.

You may be wondering right now how Paley's break-up, the Ramayana, and Annette Hanshaw have anything to do
with one another.

In quite an interesting and random way actually.

1- Paley's husband moved to India, she moved after him, then he broke up with her in an email.

2- While in India, she discovered the Indian story of Ramayana.

3- Back in New York after the dump, she was crashing at a friend's house who had a record player, were
she discovered the music of Annette Hanshaw.

Lucky thing all of these events happened, because together they birthed Sita Sings the Blues.

I had read in Paley's blog that with this film she wasn't aiming to make a children's movie, but during it I didn't see anything that I thought wasn't fit for children, so when I had the chance I asked Paley how she felt about children watching it. She said she thought it was fine for children, but that some people didn't.

I also asked her if she recommends storytelling through entertainment as a form of healing- since she told the story of her hard break up through this movie that's now showing in festivals across the world.
She said she just recommends art as expression.

Other Press the film is getting creates controversy around Paley's "feminist recontextualization" of the Ramayan, how it's offensive to some, disrespecting Rama. But Paley says for the most part the response to the
film has been very positive.

Hopefully it's playing at a festival near you! Get out and see it. Or email Paley for your own copy.

She says her next film will be about free speech.


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About Elisabeth

Bartlett Elisabeth
Blogging about the festival scene from Los Angeles

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