nina paley

CC Filmmakers and Festivals Change the Rules

Elliot Harmon, March 19th, 2013

During the Academy Awards a few weeks ago, we were reminded of an interesting piece of Creative Commons history:

In 2007, Donna Dewey’s A Story of Healing became the first Academy Award–winning film to be released under a Creative Commons license. The film follows plastic surgeons from Interplast, an organization that provides free reconstructive surgery to people with injuries and congenital deformities. Interplast (which produced the film and is now known as ReSurge International), recognized that sharing it under a CC license could allow its message to reach more people.

Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues / Nina Paley / CC0

Six years later, filmmakers all around the world are using Creative Commons licenses to bring their films to new audiences. And in the process, many of them are redefining how film production and distribution can work. No, CC-licensed films aren’t sweeping the Oscars, but maybe they’ve become a part of something even more exciting.

For example, take Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues. Most people reading this blog post have probably seen Paley’s amazing film. (If you haven’t, watch it right now. We’ll be here when you get back.) But you might not know that as of 2013, Paley has placed her film in the public domain. Paley explains why she made the unorthodox decision to waive her copyright under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration:

… I still believe in all the reasons for BY-SA, but the reality is I would never, ever sue anyone over SSTB or any cultural work. I will still publicly condemn abuses like enclosure and willful misattribution, but why point a loaded gun at everyone when I’d never fire it? CC0 is an acknowledgement I’ll never go legal on anyone, no matter how abusive and evil they are.

Gottfrid Svartholm

Gottfrid Svartholm (from TPB AFK) / Simon Klose / CC BY

A few weeks ago, Simon Klose released TPB AFK, the long-awaited, Kickstarter-funded documentary about the lives and legal difficulties of the founders of The Pirate Bay. Klose released two versions of the documentary, one licensed BY-NC-ND and one BY-NC-SA. According to Klose, the film includes six minutes of footage from a television network that wouldn’t allow adaptations, so he chose to release a remix-friendly version omitting that footage alongside the NoDerivs version. Both in Klose’s case and in Paley’s, the licenses invite types of reuse and creative participation that can get really problematic under traditional, All Rights Reserved film distribution.

This summer, members of the Nordic CC community are organizing the first Nordic Creative Commons Film Festival. Organizers are inviting anyone in the region to host a screening. Venues will range from full-size theatres to small gatherings in people’s homes. (The organizers are currently looking both for volunteer organizers and for film submissions. Visit their website for more information.)

The Nordic festival is the latest in a growing movement of CC film festivals that began with the Barcelona Creative Commons Film Festival. The BccN launched in 2010 with the slogan “COPY THIS FESTIVAL.” And copy it people did, with “copies” appearing in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Lima, Helsinki, and beyond.

In a video message to the organizers of the Nordic CC Film Festival, CC cofounder Lawrence Lessig suggests that the film culture of the future will look less like today’s film industry and more like this festival:

Another new direction in filmmaking — which, interestingly, also originated in Spain — is Pablo Maqueda and Haizea Viana’s #littlesecretfilm. Anyone can create a “#littlesecretfilm,” as long as her film follows a list of minimalistic rules (finish shooting in 24 hours, ad-libbed dialogue). It’s hard not to make comparisons to Dogme 95, but #littlesecretfilm’s organizers stress that they’re not trying to build a new movement (interview in Spanish). The project’s manifesto describes it simply as “an act of love for the cinema,” which could also describe the global spread of CC film festivals. And of course, #littlesecretfilms must be licensed under Creative Commons.

Around the world, CC filmmakers and festival organizers are changing the rules of every step in the process of filmmaking, from writing and shooting to editing, distribution, and monetization. At a time when the mainstream film industry is struggling to redefine and modernize itself, the CC community isn’t waiting up.

Attention CC filmmakers: Please add your projects to our Case Studies and post upcoming screenings to our Events page. We’d love to help promote your work!

Update (April 11, 2013): The Nordic Creative Commons Film Festival has just launched a crowdfunding campaign. Make a donation or visit the festival site to find other ways to get involved.

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The Wall Street Journal on “Sita Sings The Blues” and Profit Numbers

Cameron Parkins, December 1st, 2009


RamSitaGods, Nina Paley | CC BY-SA

Last week, The Wall Street Journal posted a fascinating article on the profits made by Nina Paley for her film Sita Sings The Blues. Widely available for free online under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, Sita has garnered $55,000 to date, an impressive amount for a film that has spent nothing on promotion or adverting.

While this amount only conveys part of the story – the article leaves out the cost to make the film as well as Paley’s cost-of-living – it is inspiring to see such fiscal success from a work of open-cinema. Aurelia Schultz, current CC legal research volunteer, digs deeper with the numbers on her blog, making the following observation:

A better tally of how [Paley] has done would include how the Sita copyright issue and subsequent CC licensing have increased Nina’s income from her other works by increasing her visibility; how much she makes from speaking engagements (which she say are her most lucrative work); and how much more she would have paid out under her settlement agreement had she released the film in a more traditional manner. Since all of these things only add to what she has already made, it’s clear that releasing Sita under a Creative Commons license was a good choice for Nina.

For more information on Sita Sings the Blues be sure to read our interview with Nina Paley as well as check out our case study on the film itself.

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CC Talks With: Nina Paley

Cameron Parkins, June 3rd, 2009

Nina Paley’s Sita Sings The Blues, released online a little over two months ago, has been generating great press and even greater viewership, closing in on 70,000 downloads at archive.org alone. For the non-inundated, there is great background information on the film at Paley’s website.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Paley about the film – we touched on the film’s aesthetics and plot points, but perhaps most interesting to those in the CC community is Paley’s decision to utilize our copyleft license, Attribution-ShareAlike, and her thoughts on free licensing and the open source movement in general. Read on to learn more about the licensing trials and tribulations associated with the film’s release, how CC has played a role, and Paley’s opinions on the Free Culture movement as a whole.

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Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues” Out Under Attribution-ShareAlike

Fred Benenson, March 10th, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues
Talented animator, writer and producer Nina Paley has freely released her animated film, Sita Sings the Blues under our copyleft license, Attribution-ShareAlike. Copies of Paley’s feature length film are available on Archive.org, LegalTorrents, and various other sites in many different formats. Nina explains her decision to her audience on the film’s site:

Dear Audience,

I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

You don’t need my permission to copy, share, publish, archive, show, sell, broadcast, or remix Sita Sings the Blues. Conventional wisdom urges me to demand payment for every use of the film, but then how would people without money get to see it? How widely would the film be disseminated if it were limited by permission and fees? Control offers a false sense of security. The only real security I have is trusting you, trusting culture, and trusting freedom. …

Nina’s film retells the classic Indian myth Ramayana and has already received critical acclaim from the NYTimes, Rogert Ebert who gave it two thumbs up, and many others. On March 7th, it was broadcast on PBS/WNET and is now available streaming on thirteen.org.

Check out SitaSingstheBlues.com for more information, download links, and of course, a wiki.

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