I’ve finally gone and done it and seen Nina Paley’s remarkable animated film Sita Sings the Blues, an adaptation of the great Indian epic the Ramayana juxtaposed with a story of modern heartbreak. Mixed in too are the sultry sob songs of Annette Hanshaw and narration by a trio of shadow puppets. You need to see it if you haven’t.
Here’s the best part: it’s free. You can download it from Paley’s website. Turns out she’s one of these free culture nuts and so, like Killing the Buddha, the film is distributed with a Creative Common license and supported by free-will donations from its audience. This model, which Paley appears to be quite serious about, fits especially nicely with her charmingly fast-and-loose retelling of the ancient tale. Some form of free culture, of course, is how the great epics got started in the first place: a community of authors developed it out of creative retelling after creative retelling. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t get payment or credit for their work, only that they adhered to something other than the particular restrictions of the modern copyright system, by which art represents a quantifiable, controllable commodity. Sometimes that’s just not the nature of the work, whether you’re miming an old epic or, in our case, trying to shepherd uncommon ideas about religion into the world.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.