Urbana native's film part of her push for free culture

Urbana native's film part of her push for free culture

CHAMPAIGN – Describing herself as a full-time free-culture activist, Nina Paley will not only address audiences at Ebertfest, where her "Sita Sings the Blues" will be shown at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

The day after Roger Ebert's Film Festival ends, she will also head to the University of Illinois College of Law to talk to students and faculty about intellectual property.

"It's not property any more than air is property, though I know people are trying to make air property, too," she said during a telephone interview from New York, where she lives.

In late February, the 40-year-old Urbana native, the daughter of Hiram and Jean Paley, put her award-winning animated film "Sita Sings the Blues" online at www.sitasingstheblues.com for downloading and sharing, free to anyone.

"I put it online because I don't believe in intellectual property anymore," she said. "I think culture should be shared. And I actually believe that the more culture is shared, the more valuable it becomes, so I did it to increase the value of the film."

Since she started streaming "Sita" online on Feb. 28, more than 100,000 people looked at it. In early March, viewers could begin downloading and sharing it.

Two U.S. firms are distributing 35 mm prints of "Sita" to theaters, but in an unconventional release, which means there's no money for advertising.

"All the more reason that it's helpful that people are seeing it online," Paley said. "If it's at a theater in their city, they go, 'Oh, I'd like to see it on a big screen.' The industry says (file sharing) cuts into their profits, but all I've noticed is that it increases demand for the film."

At this point, Paley doesn't care about conventional theatrical distribution – no distributor would pick up the film anyway now that people can see it for free.

However, Paley is looking for "innovative" distributors for Europe and elsewhere outside the United States.

"The types of demands that distributors normally make I can't accommodate because the cat's out of the bag," she said.

"Sita" was also broadcast in March by WNET Channel 13, the Public Broadcasting System in New York City; WNET also was the first television station to stream "Sita" over its Web site.

"I hope other PBS stations will follow suit," Pale said, noting that any one of them could broadcast "Sita" at any time, for free.

In a variety of animation styles, the 82-minute feature tells the epic Indian tale of Ramayana and the parallel true-life story of Paley being dumped by her husband, all set to 1920s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw.

Ebert wrote that he was enchanted and swept away after he started watching "Sita" on DVD.

"It is astonishingly original," he wrote. "It brings together four entirely separate elements and combines them into a great whimsical chord."

So far, the animated film, created almost entirely by Paley using 2-D computer graphics, has received 21 awards, with the most meaningful for Paley having been the Cristal grand prix for best feature at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France.

"Sita" is still being shown on the film-festival circuit. As for being invited to Ebertfest, Paley, who moved away from Urbana 20 years ago, said it feels great.

"It's my hometown, and there's a big whole film festival in my hometown, and there wasn't when I lived there," she said.

Full schedule for 11th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival

When: April 22-26

Where: Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign

Online: www.ebertfest.com

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

7 p.m.: "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music," the Director's Cut (184 minutes). Appearances by Michael Wadleigh, director, and Dale Bell, producer.

THURSDAY, APRIL 23

1:30 p.m.: "My Winnipeg" (80 minutes). Appearance by Guy Maddin, director.

4 p.m.: "Chop Shop" (84 minutes). Appearance by Ramin Bahrani, director.

8:30 p.m.: "Trouble The Water" (NR; 96 minutes). Appearances by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, director and producer, and Kimberly & Scott Roberts.

FRIDAY, APRIL 24

1:30 p.m.: "Begging Naked" (80 minutes). Appearance by Karen Gehres, director.

4 p.m.: "The Last Command" (88 minutes). Appearance by the Alloy Orchestra.

8:30 p.m.: "Frozen River" (R; 97 minutes). Appearances by Courtney Hunt, director, and Misty Upham, actor.

SATURDAY, APRIL 25

11 a.m.: "The Fall" (R; 117 minutes). Appearance by Catinca Untaru, actor.

2:30 p.m.: "Sita Sings The Blues" (82 minutes). Appearance by Nina Paley, director, animator, etc.

6:30 p.m.: "Nothing But The Truth" (R; 108 minutes). Appearances by Rod Lurie, director, and Matt Dillon, actor.

9:30 p.m.: "Let The Right One In" (R; 114 minutes). Appearance by Carl Molinder, producer.

SUNDAY, APRIL 26

Noon: "Baraka" (NR; 96 minutes). Appearances by Mark Magidson, producer, and Ron Fricke, director.

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