Nina Paley

Nina Paley: Sita Sings the Blues

"Nina Paley’s delightfully subversive feminist musical version of the Ramayana constitutes an irrefutable argument for classic 2-D animation as a viable, vibrant low-budget arthouse medium for adults." Variety

Los Angeles Premiere | 2008, 82 min., 35mm
Jack H. Skirball Screening Series

In her first feature-length film, comic strip artist-turned-filmmaker Nina Paley juxtaposes multiple narrative and visual styles to create a highly entertaining and affecting vision of the Ramayana — the ancient Sanskrit epic and essential fixture of the Hindu canon. Musical numbers choreographed to the 1920s-era jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw spin off an astonishing whirlwind of flying monkeys, evil monsters, gods, goddesses, warriors, sages, and winged eyeballs. The film spans continents and millennia in parallel stories of two wives being unfairly dumped, one in the American autobiographical present, the other in the mythical Indian past. Three hilarious Indonesian shadow puppets narrate both the ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the epic.

In person: Nina Paley will not be able to attend the screening, but East Indian journalist/writer Aseem Chhabra (who also lends his voice to Shadow Puppet No 1) will introduce the film and discuss it with the audience during the Q & A session.

"In 1988, at 20, I left my hometown of Urbana, IL, for Santa Cruz, California, to fulfill a naive dream of becoming a new age, crystal-wielding hippie. Instead I became a cynical cartoonist. Nina’s Adventures, my semi-autobiographical, often experimental, not-quite-underground alternative weekly comic strip, appeared in the Santa Cruz Comic News, the LA Reader, Comic Relief Magazine, the Funny Times, and the San Francisco Examiner. I also created two solo "alternative" comic books for Dark Horse Comics, and various shorter pieces were published in anthologies by Last Gasp, Rip Off Press, the feminist Laugh Lines Press, and Kitchen Sink Press.

Nina’s Adventures was a labor of love, but it didn't pay the rent. After 7 years I succumbed to courtship by major syndicates, releasing my first mainstream daily, Fluff, which enjoyed a modest run in about 40 mainstream newspapers worldwide.

I shot my first film, Luv Is..., in one week with a vintage super-8 camera, using stop-motion clay puppets and a cardboard set on my living room table after moving to San Francisco in 1991. I went on to make 3 more films in 1998, each exploring a different medium or technique: Cancer (drawing and scratching on 35mm), I Heart My Cat (16 mm stop-motion) and Follow Your Bliss (traditional pencil and ink on paper).

In 1999, thanks to of in-kind donations from Kodak and CFI Labs in Los Angeles and Imagica USA, I made the world's first completely cameraless IMAX film, Pandorama. I received a grant from the Film Arts Foundation to produce Fetch! (2001), a short film incorporating optical illusions.

Then I plunged headlong into a controversial series about overpopulation and the environment. The centerpiece of this 2002 trilogy, which I now call my "Fertility Cycle," was the 3-and-a-half minute The Stork, in which a serene natural landscape is bombed by bundles of joy – followed by Goddess of Fertility and Fertco.

In June 2002 I moved to Trivandrum, India, following my (American) husband who had taken a job there. Upon my arrival I was confronted with his mid-life crisis, a complete emotional withdrawal. Meanwhile I was in the midst of developing a new comic strip for King Features Syndicate, The Hots.

I moved to Brooklyn, and began teaching animation at Parsons School of Design. Emotionally, however, my relocation commenced a terrible year of grief. The Ramayana took on new depth and meaning for me; it seemed to capture the essence of painful relationships, and describe a blueprint of human suffering. My grief and longing for the man who rejected me increasingly resembled Sita's; my husband's withdrawal reminded me of Rama. In Manhattan I heard the music of Annette Hanshaw for the first time. A radio star of the late 1920's, Hanshaw specialized in heartfelt blues and torch songs. In my grief-addled state, her songs, my story, and the Ramayana merged into one: Sita Sings the Blues." – Nina Paley.

See for more information.

Aseem Chhabra is a freelance writer in New York City who writes on a variety of topics, including arts, entertainment, social and political issues stories. Aseem has been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Courier-Journal and Time Out, New York. He writes a weekly Sunday New York column for Mumbai Mirror -- a Mumbai based daily newspaper and also contributes regularly to two Indian-American outlets -- India Abroad and, the leading news portal that originates from Mumbai. His by-lines have also appeared in India in The Telegraph, The Hindustan Times, The Times of India, India Today and the Indian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine. He has covered the South Asian community in North America from the mid-1980s, from the Khalistan movement in India and its impact in the Sikh community in the US, to the hate crimes following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Program sponsored by Live Action & Animation DUCK Studios and introduced by Maureen Selwood, CalArts Experimental Animation Faculty

The Jack H. Skirball Screening Series is curated by Steve Anker and Bérénice Reynaud

Funded in part with generous support from Wendy Keys and Donald Pels.

Associated Images: 

MON 10/13
8:30 pm

G - General Audience

M - REDCAT Members

ST - Students

CA - CalArts Students/Faculty/Staff