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How ‘Sita Sings the Blues’ landed on Thirteen

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Richard Siegmeister, Senior Counsel, Reel 13

As the lawyer that licenses the independent films for Reel 13, I constantly scour blogs, film festival sites and talk to distributors, all to find more independent films that would be good for our series. I was reading The House Next Door blog on September 27, and I saw the headline “Am I a Criminal?”: The continuing travails of Sita Sings The Blues filmmaker Nina Paley. I read the article. I went to her website. I saw the incredible artwork. I saw the trailer and read her blog and found out that Sita uses music from the 1920s-30s, which Nina was having problems clearing. That day I sent the following email:


one of 5 different animation styles used in Sita Sings The Blues

Greetings,
I’m writing to you from Thirteen/WNET New York, the nation’s most watched public television station. We broadcast a weekly program entitled Reel 13 Indies, a showcase for independent films from around the world. We are looking for interesting work that has not had the exposure in New York that it deserves, and Sita Sings The Blues looks like it might be a really good fit . . .

I read your blog “Am I A Criminal”–There is an exception in the US Copyright Act for Public Television. No payment is required for use of a master and the synch rights, for the music publishing is at a compulsory statutory rate that PBS pays for. Public Television may be the only way that you can legally get your film to a large audience without having to negotiate and pay the music publishers.

I got a reply right away letting me know that Nina was interested, and that a DVD was on its way. On October 4th, after watching the film, I sent this email:

I love Sita Sings The Blues. I am going to do everything I can to find a place for it on WNET. On Monday, I will give my copy to our programmer with my strongest possible recommendation.

We have shown many fine films on Reel 13, but this was the one film I felt it was important to get out there to a broader audience. I loved the story, the use of different types of animation, the music and the flying eyeballs. Nina was happy to be part of Reel 13 and gave us the right to not only broadcast the film but also to stream it on our website.

Another early proponent of Sita at Thirteen was Robin Edgerton in our Interactive & Broadband Department (i originally saw parts of it on Nina’s rooftop screenings-ed). She was independently telling people about the film without knowing that I was in the middle of closing the licensing agreement. She was thrilled that we had the online rights and worked with Dan Greenberg and Daniel Ross to make it part of the relaunch of the Reel 13 website.

In the months that followed I have been thrilled by how many people share my opinion of Sita Sings The Blues: Roger Ebert, the New York Times, and you. The public response has been phenomenal. As of March 10 (1 week after the launch of the new website that included the Sita stream), we have had around 81,000 views (and about 250 comments!) of Sita online. During the broadcasts of Sita Sings the Blues, about 50,000 more viewers watched the film over the past weekend.

I am so happy that I was able to help bring this film to our viewers. If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to. Enjoy.

Watch Sita Sings the Blues online at Reel 13.


Visit Sita Sings the Blues online.

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Celebrating Teachers and Learners

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Thanks, Mrs. Berman.

That name came back to me this weekend at our annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning. For the fourth year in a row, the Celebration provided a place for teachers from across the country to come together and shape the future of education. We had great guests like Governor Paterson, Google CEO Eric Schmidt (see recent Charlie Rose interview), celebrity math advocate Danica McKellar, and “Hawkeye” himself, Alan Alda of our upcoming show The Human Spark. Teachers were able to hear from these guests and many others in sessions that should have them returning to the classroom bursting with new ideas.


Alan Alda and Neal Shapiro at the 2009 Celebration
of Teaching and Learning (photo: Joe Sinnott)

The weekend reminded me of the educators who have touched my life. Mrs. Berman was my fourth grade teacher, and every day when I walked into school I would tell her what happened on the Today Show that morning. One day, when I wasn’t paying attention to the TV in the kitchen, I had nothing to tell Mrs Berman. Something felt wrong to me… but I didn’t quite know what it was. “I think you like telling people what happened,” she told me. “You know, some people do that as a career. Maybe that would be good for you?”

And I remember Mr. Yoachim, who led the middle school orchestra in which I played the violin. I knew I would never be a professional violinist, but whenever I hear a symphony, I am grateful for the knowledge about just how hard it is to make great music.

And I remember Helen Adler, who taught literature in my high school and opened my eyes to great authors and great works, not just on the page but on the screen as well.

So here I am, lucky enough to be at WNET.ORG, where our people and companies we work with produce the best in news, music and arts and culture.

And… I’m still learning.

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Unsung Heroines on thirteen.org

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

from: Robin Edgerton, editor, thirteen.org

When approaching a project for March, a.k.a. Women’s History Month, I was reminded/inspired by a project started by Gail O’Hara, the editor/publisher of a little-known feminist music magazine called Chickfactor. That project, not extant (sadly!), was to be called “Dead Ladies”, and was to be all about women who were no longer with us, yet still had an impact on our collective and individual lives, still: both tribute and education.

Similarly, I wanted to know what women the figures we all know on PBS/Thirteen shows look up to – or have been inspired and motivated by. Because these journalists and producers move amongst and report on amazing people all the time, I’m always curious who sticks with them, whose words or deeds they return to. Read More …

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New Reel 13 site!

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Inside Thirteen blogger: Daniel Ross, web producer, Reel 13

If you’ve visited Reel 13′s site before, you’ll probably notice we’ve undergone some pretty big changes. The old site didn’t provide much opportunity for feedback or interaction with you, the audience. But that’s all changed.

We’ve updated Reel 13 so you can discuss the films you watch with other users, share your thoughts on Reel 13 Classic and Indie films, and keep up with what’s going on in the NYC film community.

Our new blog will offer interviews with filmmakers ­both known and obscure ­ long with dispatches written by filmmakers, critics, journalists, curators, and others deeply involved in New York City’s filmmaking community. The curator of Reel 13 shorts will post weekly introductions to the films she chooses for the competition, including insights about why she chose them, what she looks for
in potential competitors, and thoughts about the winners and losers from the previous week’s competition.

Our voting on short films is a lot easier, and we’ve added some new features, like film quizzes and a place to tell us what classic and indie films you’d like to see.

Perhaps the biggest change you’ll notice on Reel 13 is our partnership with Vimeo, a fantastic community of people who make and share video. Going forward, filmmakers will submit their work to us by uploading their films via a Vimeo account. Short films selected for competition will play in Vimeo’s high quality, embeddable, linkable player. For you filmmakers, that means more eyeballs across the Internet will see your work.

In the past, once Reel 13 short films aired on television, you couldn’t view them on our site. Now we’ve added a short film library so you can watch the shorts you missed. We’re launching with 23 shorts, but we’re currently uploading our entire back catalog of­ nearly 150 films.

The idea here is to create an online community of independent filmmakers,­ a place to share your films and discover the films made by your peers. We hope you’ll stick around and watch a few films, vote on this week’s shorts, and while you’re at it, submit a film!

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10 Reasons Why We Love Cats and Dogs

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Sarah Wilson, Animal Behaviorist on Nature

In this season of valentines, THIRTEEN’s Nature series explores our infatuation with our four-legged friends in Why We Love Cats and Dogs.

Americans own 73 million dogs and 90 million cats, and we each have a million and one reasons why we love our pets. Here are just a few reasons why I think people are drawn to their cats or dogs:

Sarah’s top five reasons:

We Love Cats Because They….

• Purr, giving voice to a perfect sense of peace and companionship.
• Land on their feet; an admirable trait in troubled times.
• Nap in the sun, reminding us to enjoy the simple things.
• Grace us – and only us – with their acceptance.
• Never fake it. When they are happy, they are happy and when they are not – you never have to guess.

We Love Dogs Because They….

• Wake us with a cold nose and a happily thumping tail.
• Think we are perfection…even when work’s been lousy, our loved ones are upset, a check bounced, our favorite jeans don’t fit or we’ve just done something we are glad wasn’t caught on video.
• Play with us with complete abandon and no-holds-barred joy.
• Lick away our tears.
• Show us that we don’t have to spend money to have a great time!

Tell us why you love your cat or dog. And if you think you have the cutest pet send in a photo of your cat or dog to Nature’s Why I Love Cats and Dogs photo contest.

Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs premieres nationally Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 8:00 pm (ET) on PBS.

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Dan Rather on the set

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Inside Thirteen Blogger: Martin Savidge, Worldfocus Anchor

We asked Dan Rather to come by Worldfocus on Monday. For me it was a personal thrill… as well as a professional opportunity to better inform our audience on Afghanistan.

I first met Dan as a young journalist on my second job in TV news, working for a local CBS affiliate in Peoria, Illinois. Yup, I played in Peoria! I was sent to New York and CBS to shoot the much-coveted promotional spot of local guy-with-Dan Rather. You can imagine for a young journalist how intimidating it might be meeting one of America’s most trusted. Before the promo shoot, he invited me into his office just to chat. He knew plenty about Peoria and central Illinois’ place in present and past political history. He made me feel at ease. Later I took a photo of he and I together on the set of CBS Evening News. I have kept it proudly on display in my home ever since.


Rather and Savidge in 1983

For me Rather is also synonymous to a deep commitment of international coverage, he understands that it is essential for American viewers. Americans came to know of many distant lands because Dan went there. His embeds with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan have become iconic, even the stuff of movies. Rather has continued to watch Afghanistan and the rest of the world through his weekly program Dan Rather Reports on HDNet. It’s the kind of reporting we strive for on Worldfocus, with depth and understanding. The world matters. So his insight and experience was perfect for our discussion of America’s new focus on an ancient land.

Before he left on Monday, I asked Dan for a favor which he graciously granted. We posed for a photo on the set of Worldfocus, side by side. For me, history had come full circle.


Rather and Savidge on the Worldfocus set
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A Pragmatic Precedent

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Guest Blogger: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Writer, Host, & Executive Producer of Looking for Lincoln

The following is an excerpt from a New York Times Op-Ed piece by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and John Stauffer (published January 18, 2009):

A PRAGMATIC PRECEDENT

    UNTIL a martyred John F. Kennedy replaced him, Abraham Lincoln was one of the two white men whose image most frequently graced even the most modest black home, second in popularity only to Jesus. Perhaps none of his heirs in the Oval Office has been as directly compared to Lincoln as will Barack Obama, in part because Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation began freeing the slaves descended from the continent on which Mr. Obama’s father was born, and in part because of Mr. Obama’s own fascination with Lincoln himself.

    Much has been written about what Mr. Obama thinks about Lincoln; but not much has been said about what Lincoln would think of Barack Hussein Obama. If his marble statue at the Lincoln Memorial could become flesh and speak, like Galatea, what would the man who is remembered for freeing the slaves say about his first black successor?

Read rest of article.

Looking for Lincoln premieres Wednesday, February 11 at 9:00 pm.

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Broadcasting While Black

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Inside Thirteen blogger: Robin Edgerton, editor, thirteen.org


African singer/activist Miriam Makeba performs,
while dancer/costume designer Judy Dearing
interprets, on an episode of Soul! from 1972

‘Broadcasting While Black’ is thirteen.org’s approach to Black History Month programming. We’ll be presenting articles and videos on thirteen.org throughout February 2009, focusing on early years of black-produced television. We’re putting up full episodes of Soul! (1968-1973) and early episodes of Black Journal, both early WNET productions we are proud of, as well as interviews and articles.

Why this topic in particular? For starters, the history of black-produced TV is neglected on the Web. We found that the source information on this theme is scant: An occasional episode list, a description of a show isolated in a producer’s bio, a clip or two on YouTube, not much else. We’d like to provide more information and hopefully a location for further discussion of these programs.

Traditionally, during Black History Month most media organizations offer content on the civil rights movement, emancipation, Jim Crow laws, and so forth—while this is absolutely valuable (and Thirteen’s BHM on-air program, Looking for Lincoln, is great), this approach skews the discussion to be about racial conflict and oppression. For instance, you can’t address Jim Crow laws without involving the lawmakers or oppressors—Black History Month then becomes, in part, White History Month.

Instead, this online project emphasizes identity—African-Americans who took control of media moving their debates and art forward—and at the same time developing a broader place and stronger voice.

Here’s what we’ll be posting during the month:

Broadcasting While Black: An Overview
Wayne Taylor looks at how these programs started, focusing on 5 of the earliest from around the country:

    Say Brother at WGBH Boston
    Black Journal at WNET New York
    Colored People’s Time/CPT at Detroit Public Television
    Soul! at WNET New York
    Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant at WNEW New York


Image from an early Black Journal skit

Soul!
Many full-length, online streaming episodes (6 to start) of this groundbreaking art and politics variety show, which ran from 1968-1973 on NET and WNET.

Black Journal
Two early episodes of this flagship NET program, full-length, streaming online.

Interviews and articles:
* Director Stan Lathan about his work on Soul!, Say Brother, Black Journal (and Sesame Street)
* Producer Charles Hobson about his work on Inside Bedford-Stuyvesant and Black Journal
* Gayle Wald’s examination of iconoclastic Soul! producer Ellis Haizlip, whose freeform vision shaped the series.
* Devorah Heitner’s list of all(?) black-produced programs produced in the U.S. between the 1960s and the 1980s, adapted for the web with links and clips.

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Worldfocus teams up with BlogTalkRadio

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Inside Thirteen blogger: Stephen Puschel, web producer, Worldfocus.org

Hopes were high and expectations were uncertain when we decided to combine Worldfocus and online radio. No one was sure how an Internet-based radio address would work, especially one conducted mostly by telephone. But after two successful programs on BlogTalkRadio, we decided that the potential of online radio was too good to stay away from.

The Worldfocus team couldn’t be more excited about our new platform. We have so much faith in our concept (much needed high-quality international news) and our content, that we want to venture into as many broadcast platforms as possible. Online radio is our newest, but it certainly won’t be our last.

So give it a try and listen by going to BlogTalkRadio or at worldfocus.org. On Tuesday, Jan. 13, Martin hosted a panel discussion of Middle East experts. Together, they talked about Gaza and the history of the conflict, going way beyond soundbites and headlines to provide context and perspective that you probably won’t find at a place other than Worldfocus.

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About The Ascent of Money 2-Hour Special

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Inside Thirteen blogger: William R. Grant, Executive Producer, The Ascent of Money and Director of Science, Natural History, and Features Programs at WNET.ORG

A few hours before the two-hour television special The Ascent of Money went to air, I took a phone call from someone who works with a Midwest venture capitalist anxious to be able to tell her boss “how he would look in the show.” I understood the boss’ concern. Few financiers look good these days.

Our rules prohibit talking about the details of programs with participants before the broadcast. I talked with her about the program in general and she promised to let me know the reaction in her office. We’ll see.

The two-hour broadcast was an important way-station in a long and complicated production that began two years ago when Stephen Segaller, who was then WNET’s director of news and public affairs programs and is now vice-president of content, began taking with Niall Ferguson about Ferguson’s plans to do a book and a television series on the history of the global economy.

Ferguson is a Scottish historian educated at Oxford who holds appointments in both the history department and the Business School at Harvard University. Ferguson had been on PBS in 2006 with his series War of the World, his reinterpretation of World War II, and now he would do the roots of the current world economy. As it turned out, it was something like trying to analyze World War II while the war was going on. During 2008, especially during the last months of production in the fall, bad news was followed by worse news as the economy of most of the world plummeted into deep recession.

The plan had been to broadcast a four-hour series on PBS in June but PBS asked us to create a shorter version earlier. We raced to cut a two-hour program (watch it online) for broadcast this week. We scrambled, and thanks to Niall’s production team, especially producer Adrian Pennink, and our own Stephanie Carter, who climbed over a mountain of problems to get the program to PBS in time for air, we did it. But as I said, this was a way-station. The four-hour version is still scheduled for Spring, and it is yet to be finished.

Promo for the Ascent of Money:

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