16 July 2009

The Ramayana blues, and other adventures in film

I was disappointed to miss the run of the movie Sita Sings the Blues when it was at the local film society. Then this week I ran across the film website and a pleasant surprise: The film, packaged under a Creative Commons license, is free to download in high quality (up to 1080p HD!).

Nina Paley, the mastermind of this engaging animated feature film, says "There is the question of how I'll get money from all this. My personal experience confirms audiences are generous and want to support artists. Surely there's a way for this to happen without centrally controlling every transaction. The old business model of coercion and extortion is failing. New models are emerging, and I'm happy to be part of that. But we're still making this up as we go along. You are free to make money with the free content of Sita Sings the Blues, and you are free to share money with me. People have been making money in free software for years; it's time for free culture to follow. I look forward to your innovations."

The unusual release scheme aside, it's a fascinating film, with three different styles of animation telling three different parts of the story: an autobiographical tale of romantic woe; a trio of Indians trying to recall the details of the Ramayana; and wonderfully crafted musical numbers in which Sita animates old 1920s songs sung by Annette Hanshaw.

An important consideration for anyone who follows an Indian spiritual tradition is that the film's approach to the Ramayana tale is more personal and cultural than religious, with an overemphasis on how Rama did Sita wrong, and many elements left out of the story. It's the story of a heartbroken woman, and how she found solace in the story of a more famous revered heartbroken woman. At least we think she found some solace; the abrupt ending does leave some doubts. But have a look; heck, it's free (though donations are welcome). And the dancing cows are priceless.

I've also been meaning to tell you about the great online offerings at Link TV. I don't have a dish, so I can't watch most of their stuff. But the website has a number of fascinating videos, including the series Global Spirit and more than 20 interviews and music videos supporting global human rights, from the likes of Lila Downs, Michael Franti, Angelique Kidjo, and K'naan. If you're like me, you'll be adding Link TV to your favorites forthwith! Click below for the K'naan video, to start:

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