How ‘Sita Sings the Blues’ landed on Thirteen

March 11, 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

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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