Sita Sings the Blues Comes to the Big Screen – At Last!
Tuesday April 21st 2009, 5:18 am
Filed under: Films, Events, Performances
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from Sita Sings the Blues
from Sita Sings the Blues

For those of you who have only seen Sita Sings the Blues on your computer or from a DVD you have missed half of the experience.  It really deserves to be seen in all its glory on a big screen with a good sound system to appreciate what a tour de force Nina Paley has accomplished almost singlehandedly.

For those who have never had the opportunity to see that Nina calls “the Greatest Break-up Story Ever Told” this is about to be rectified in some cities.

If you live in the Bay Area you are in for a double treat because you can see a great film while supporting a wonderful neighborhood theatre that still believes in screening independent films and isn’t afraid to program films that other cinema won’t touch because they are not blockbusters.

I’m not going to write about the film’s story line because I (along with many other writers) have already written so many words about it.  If you are unfamiliar with the film and Nina’s long battle to gain the rights to use some of the songs as sung by 1920’s jazz vocalist Annette Hanshaw visit her web site:

The story behind the making of the film is almost as exciting as the animated film itself.

On a personal note, Nik and Nina have collaborated on several films and Nik contributed music for Sita Sings the Blues.  Nik and I also have a very warm spot in our hearts for the Red Vic since we performed there regularly when we lived in San Francisco.  One of the things that I really miss from the Bay Area is the Red Vic’s popcorn.  Take it from me, as a true popcorn aficionado; they have some of the best popcorn that I have even eaten in a theatre!

SITA SINGS the Blues will screen at the Red Vic for 5 days:

May 8th through the 12

Show Times:   7:15, 9:15; also Saturday and Sunday 2:00 and 4:00

Tickets:    Advance tickets available via

Regular admission $9; Tuesday evenings and 2PM Matinee $6,  Seniors (62 and older_ and children (12 and younger)  $6  at all times


1727 Haight Street (between Cole and Shrader)              San Francisco, California  94117

GETTING THERE IS EASY:  The Red Vic is served directly by Muni Routes 7, 33, 37, 43 and 71.  Muni Routes 6 and N Judah come within a few blocks


Columbus, Ohio – April 17 – 23 – Drexel Theater

Chicago, Illinois – May 1 – 7 – Gene Siskel Film Center

Portland, Oregon – May 8, 9, 12-15, 18, 21 and 22 – Van City Theater

Wilmington, Delaware – May 15 – 17 – Theatre N at Nemours

Lake Worth, Florida – May 15 – 21 – Lake Worth Playhouse

Boston, Massachusetts – June 12-14 – Brattle Theater

Notre Dame, Indiana – July 23-25 – DeBartolo Performing Arts Center

Friendly Fire
Wednesday November 12th 2008, 7:29 am
Filed under: Films, Events, Performances
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I am back from Xiamen, China and am still trying to process the amazing experience.  I will be writing about my trip soon but in the meantime this weekend Nik and I will travel to Berlin for the premier of the new animated film Friendly Fire.  Nik composed and performed the music for the film and we are very honored and proud to be part of this project.  I hope that you will visit the website listed at the bottom of the article to learn more about the production and that you will have the opportunity to view the film at a festival soon.

14th October 2008

Filmmaker Andy Kaiser at work
Filmmaker Andy Kaiser at work

Brand new studio The End of the Pier Films will be premiering their first production on Sunday November 16th at a private screening for crew at the Babylon Kino in Berlin.

Friendly Fire is a 7 and a half minute stopmotion film written and directed by Andy Kaiser.  It tells the story of one soldier’s temporary release from the horror and destruction of the First World War.

The film was written in 2001 while Andy was directing ‘Celebrity Deathmatch’ for MTV, but shooting didn’t start for another 4 years because the independent project repeatedly had to be shelved in favour of paying commissions.  Principle animation on Friendly Fire finally began in Berlin in March 2008, and it was a unique and challenging shooting experience for everyone involved.

Andy’s goal with Friendly Fire was to create a film without once resorting to a digital process, to make a film using technology pioneered by Ray Harryhausen and Fritz Lehmann and to see how far it can be pushed.  Every effect in Friendly Fire was achieved in-camera, without the option of touching up or rig-removal in post.  This created a myriad of challenges, not least because the age of the techniques used meant that there was a very limited resource of information and advice available.  Every shot had to be invented from scratch, using techniques such as front projection, high-speed (a floor-shattering 2000fps), multi-layered rostrum work, live action and matting.

Friendly Fire action shot
Friendly Fire action shot

The shoot ended in June 2008 and post production started immediately, running until October 2008.  Because of the in-camera effects, there was very little visual post production to complete besides optical grading, however the audio post became a dance between several European cities - the music was written in Gent, the foley recorded in Munich, the sound design produced in Dusseldorf and Cologne and the Dolby Digital mixing finally brought the production through London and back to Berlin.

Friendly Fire is a contemporary example of a film with its roots in the golden age of cinema, and it was made partly in homage to the early pioneers of special effects, but also as an experiment to see if a film made with technology from a bygone age can stand amongst the digital productions of today.

For more Information please write to or


Saturday November 03rd 2007, 4:24 am
Filed under: Festivals, Performances

The 34th Flanders International Film Festival held in Gent, Belgium (October 9 – 20) primarily celebrates film music’s relation to the visual language of film. That said, it also includes some fine animation, including two of the thirteen short films nominated for the 2007 European Film Awards (PRIX UIP). Each of the 13 films in this competition had already won a PRIX UIP award of €2000.00 at one of the major European festivals, and the winner will be announced on 1 December in Berlin and awarded a €10,000.00 grand prize.

One of the two contenders is Joanna Quinn’s delightful Dreams and Desires – Family Ties, which has already garnered the Grand Prix at several festivals such as Annecy and Zagreb. It qualified for the PRIX UIP by capturing the prize at Tampere International Film Festival in Tampere, Finland. I have written extensively about Beryl, the heroine of the film, and her whimsical screwball adventures in several previous articles, so I won’t repeat myself, except to say that the film gets better with each viewing. Nik and I did get to spend a lovely afternoon with Joanna and her scriptwriter husband Les Mills while they were here for the Festival and my next article will be an interview that I did with these two very talented and fun people. Joanna and Les also were gracious enough to take time out from their busy festival schedule to give a short Saturday morning master class at KASK School for the advanced students

In the other film, Adjustment by Ian Mackinnon from the UK, a young man searches for flickers of hope in the pages of his diary, after a break-up with his girl-friend. It is a drama of technical and emotional obsession, employing animated objects, live action and 2D/3D animation, telling the story in flip book form. Adjustment took the top prize at Festival D’Angers in Paris.

I found it impressive that 4 out of the 10 finalists for the ACE Competition for Flemish Student Shorts were animated. The winner of this competition will win a post production grant and €1,000.00. Java Jive, a merry romp to find a cup of coffee, is animated to the Ink Spots song of the same name. I doubt if the student, Koen Vanschoelont, obtained the rights to use the music, which will limit his ability to present this charming homage to coffee at some festivals and prohibit commercial distribution. Lawyers for the famous musicians’ estates are definitely out there looking for any copy right infringements. Several years ago our friend Alex Budowsky used a song by a band, with their permission, that had a small bit of a Mills Brothers song sampled. Lawyers for the Mills Brothers estate found out about the sample, and demanded a very large sum from the band, or to cease and desist distribution. The band had to go back into the studio to re-record the song, which was then put onto the already completed film.

Maarten Vranken’s Puzzled is a clever film made up of whimsically choreographed puzzle pieces. Martian Slavers, created by Landers Ceuppens tells the tale of a director who establishes a studio to produce the best animated film ever made, utilizing a million monkeys to produce this masterpiece. The total chaos that results is hilarious.

By far my favorite film in this category was Joost Jansen’s 4th year final student project, Yves. This animated documentary is a poetic-metaphorical portrait of a person who differs from the rest of the world. An interesting mix of reality and fiction creates conflicting and interesting questions about being different.

from Yves, by Joost Jansen
from Yves, by Joost Jansen

I especially wanted to see Badly Drawn Roy, by Ireland’s Alan Shannon, but due to technical problems it was not screened. I hope that I will have a chance to view it at another festival because a trip to Google made me sorry that I missed this mockumentary about Ireland’s only living animated character, born into an ordinary “live action” family.

In the feature film category, Meet the Robinsons was shown, but since the Robinsons didn’t make a very favorable impression on me the first two times I met them (once in 3-D, at Annecy), I skipped that screening.

Film music is the key element at the festival. This year’s theme was Argentina, and of course Tango was in the air. Argentinean composer and double Oscar winner Gustano Santaolalla and his Bajofondo Tango Club played a concert that featured a fiery mix of Tango and dance music plus excerpts from his award-winning film scores. Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias, known for his many years of collaboration with Pedro Almodovar, presented a concert of his works, performed by the Flemish Radio Orchestra. The three days of music events culminated with the World Soundtrack Awards. Alexandre Desplat (The Queen, The Painted Veil) was named Film Composer of the Year. The Best Original Sound Track and the Public Choice Award went to Clint Mansell (The Fountain). The festival’s highest honor, The 2007 JOSEPH PLATEAU LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD, was awarded to Walter Hill. A retrospective of Hill’s films was screened, and I particularly enjoyed seeing Hill’s 1983 Streets on Fire, an operatic rock odyssey, featuring a motorcycle gang, a kidnapping and of course romance. I had not seen it since its 1984 release and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you get a chance to see it, don’t miss this one for just sheer fun.

To find out more about the FLANDERS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL go to

Concert notes, new address for Nik and Nancy
Tuesday February 28th 2006, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Performances


Yes, after many false starts Nik and Nancy are indeed moving to Belgium, and
Thursday night will be the last chance to see the amazing collection of
contemporary animation that they have brought back from their European
travels and enjoy the trio of Nik, Nancy and renowned Animation historian
Karl Cohen giving insights into the History of Animation through Music.

7:00 PM Nik and Nancy present a historic overview of animated films using
music and sound in unusual and diverse ways from Joie de Vivre (1934 ) to
Fetch (2001). All ages welcome.

9:00 PM Nik and the Ensemble - Violinist Ellen Gronningen, Pianist Larry
Dunlap, and Bassist Andrew Higgins, Nik’s “dream team of musicians”,
perform Nik’s scores to the best of Contemporary European animation from
Belgium, Russia, Switzerland and Portugal to name a few. The concert ends
with Nina Paley’s FETCH! with Nik and the Ensemble performing his original
scores live with a special guest star.

Thursday, March 2

Balboa Theatre

3630 Balboa Street @ 37th Avenue

Nik and Nancy now have a new address that will be good for the next 6 months
and/or until we send you our permanent address in Belgium:

Nik Phelps & Nancy Denney-Phelps

Post Office Box 170366

San Francisco, California


Absolutely the last Bay Area performances by Nik Phelps and the Sprocket Ensemble at the Balboa Theater
Thursday February 23rd 2006, 1:06 am
Filed under: Performances



Balboa Theatre

3630 Balboa Street @ 37th Avenue in San Francisco

Two DIFFERENT shows 7:00 PM and 9:00 PM

Separate Admission for each program: $10.00

Just when we thought that we had given our last Bay Area performance and
turned our creative talents to sorting through 20 years of our life, Gary
Meyer and the Balboa Theatre honored us by asking Nik and I to present two
special programs of our work. If you missed our Trinity Chapel performance
here is another chance to see and hear NIK AND THE SPROCKET ENSEMBLE before
we leave for Europe in April — if you have never experienced our live
performance be sure not to miss MARCH 2 at the Balboa Theatres


Sprocket Ensemble Concert reminder
Wednesday February 01st 2006, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Performances


Nik and Nancy really are moving to Belgium — their landlord is selling
their home and they have to be out by 31 March so on Saturday February 4th
NIK PHELPS AND THE SPROCKET ENSEMBLE will give their last East Bay
Appearance before moving to Belgium.

Nancy and Nik have curated a program of their favorite films that they have
brought back from their travels to Europe, and Nik has composed evocative
music for each film to be performed live to this contemporary animation.
Whether you are a long time fan or just interested in European animation
this is a must see program.

Saturday February 4th at 8 PM

Trinity Concert Series, at Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana Street    (between
Bancroft Way & Durant Avenue)

in Berkeley

Advance tickets:  510/ 549-3864

Admission   $12.00 general

$8.00 Senior, Disabled and Students

Sprocket press release for Feb 4 concert and a msg. for all our Bay Area friends
Wednesday January 18th 2006, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Performances

Dear Friends:

Nik and I have reached an amicable settlement with our landlord, and so our
February 4th performance at Trinity Chapel in Berkeley will be our last Bay
Area appearance for a long while.  We must be out of our home on or before
31 March, and our appearance at Trinity Chapel will be the last Nik Phelps
and the Sprocket Ensemble Bay Area appearance for some time.  There will be
a reception after the show.

Please come to the show (there will be a reception following it) and make
our last performance a night to remember.  We will soon be starting our
garage sales in earnest, so if there is something in our house that you have
always had your eye on –JUST ASK if we are selling it!!!

We love all of you, and will especially miss everyone at Thanksgiving and
Christmas but we take with us so many happy memories and beautiful
photographs thanks to Christine Torrington.  We hope you all with come visit
us in Belgium and remember to patronize our garage sales!!!!


Nik and Nancy


There will be several going away parties — we’ll keep everybody posted –


Renowned Swiss Animator and our good friend is actually flying into SF for
the last Sprocket show so that gives us and ASIFA a good reason to have a
party in his honor.  Please  bring your favorite beverage to share — ASIFA
and Botany Bay Catering (AKA:  me) will provide a delicious spread.

We will screen several of Rolf’s works  and give him a real San Francisco

Sunday, 5 February

2066  30th Avenue (between Pacheco and Quintara)

San Francisco

We love all of our friends and all are welcome BUT this is an ASIFA party to
honor Rolf so if you are not interested in animation please wait for our
going away parties!!!!

Tuesday June 21st 2005, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Performances


1919 Shackelton Endurance Expedition film.

On Thursday, June 30, Nik Phelps will provide a unique musical accompaniment
to SOUTH, the amazing movie made in 1919 by Ernest Shackleton about his
Endurance Expedition to Antarctica. The screening and performance will be at
the Balboa Theatre at 7:00pm.

Also on the program will be the Oscar nominated PEOPLE OF THE WIND.


Nik Phelps performs with Frederick Hodges
Monday May 02nd 2005, 10:14 am
Filed under: Performances


If you missed it at the Balboa Theatre, in Point Arena or on our performance
tour of Scotland, you have one more chance to see and hear Nik and pianist
Frederick Hodges perform Nik’s score to the 1926 Academy Award winning film

WINGS, staring Clara Bow, Buddy Rodgers & Richard Arlen, is still as strong
an anti-war film as it was when it was originally made, with exceptional
acting by a superb cast.

Dr. Hal Robbins will MC the evening, giving us all an added treat with his
remarkable and witty store of knowledge.


SUNDAY, May 15th


2263 Mission Street (between 18 & 19 Street) San

Tickets: $12.50 advance ( or
$15.00 at the door

Information: 415/401-7987

Three All New Nik Phelps Performances
Sunday February 20th 2005, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Performances

SUNDAY, February 27th Celebrate 79 years of Movies at the Balboa Theatre
Birthday Party.

Don’t miss the rare opportunity to hear Nik Phelps perform his new original
score for the 1926 Greta Garbo classic TORRENT. Accompanying Nik will be
the incomparable pianist Frederick Hodges. In true 1926 movie fashion there
will be a vaudeville show featuring magician James Hamilton, Ms. Suzanne
(Kitten on the Keys) Ramsey on piano and witty vocals, a newsreel and Nik
and Frederick having musical fun with a cartoon.All this and prizes and
Birthday Cake too!!!!

SUNDAY, February 27 1:00 PM
Balboa Theatre - 3630 Balboa Street (at 37th Avenue) in San Francisco

415/ 221-8184

ALL SEATS $10.00

Come for the anniversary and stay for the Academy Awards, hosted by popular
San Francisco lounge singer Mr. Lucky — Nik will even get into the act
accompanying Mr. Lucky on a song or two!!!

Show starts at 5:00 PM
MARK YOUR CALENDAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



All NEW show of European Animation

FRIDAY, March 4th

Varnish Fine Art Gallery
21 Grand Gallery

77 Natoma ( at Second Street) San Francisco
449 23rd Street Oakland


admission $10.00

information: 415/ 681-3189