Full-length animated films have traditionally been very expensive to make, requiring teams of artists working over a long period of time. As a result, the medium's became the near-exclusive province of powerful studios with deep pockets but a box-office-motivated disinclination to take risks on unusual visions. In recent years, though, technology has allowed filmmakers to work on a smaller scale, creating more individualized and idiosyncratic works that don't have to rake in over $200 million in receipts to justify their existence. Waltz With Bashir, featured at last year's Denver Film Festival, was a brilliant example of this phenomenon -- and if Sita Sings the Blues, which screens at the Tivoli-based Starz FilmCenter beginning today, isn't quite as memorable, it remains an enjoyable journey into one person's imagination.
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The woman in question is director Nina Paley, who offers multiple variations on "The Ramayana," a Hindu epic originally written in Sanskrit. The tales revolve around a character named Sita, who remains true to her husband, Rama, even after being kidnapped by a demon king, but is shunned after being rescued anyhow because of specious rumors about her purity, or lack thereof. One sequence features a trio of commentators dishing about the action like ancient variations on Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel; another places a contemporary couple in a similar scenario (sans the kidnapping); and a third features the goggle-eyed Sita seen above going through her paces to the music of Annette Hanshaw, a jazz singer who peaked in popularity during the 1920s. Predictably, the results are scattershot, but they're also good-humored, witty and frequently diverting -- a fresh take on animation that couldn't possibly have come from Hollywood.
Sita unspools at 4:50 p.m. and 7 p.m. today, with additional screenings throughout the week. Tickets are $6-$9.50. Click here for all the details or phone 303-595-3456.