Year-end films seek to do so much more than simply entertain. They want to compel and preach about the state of the world, especially this year, when it seems as if Iraq War fallout lands in the multiplexes every weekend in one form or another.
But CINCINNATI WORLD CINEMA has found in The Cats of Mirikitani a film and subject that accomplish an even more complex mission. As filmmaker Linda Hattendorf, a Cincinnati native who now lives in New York City, has discussed in interviews, "I want people to feel history. Not just think about these issues intellectually in terms of statistics and dates, but to really feel their context with the heart — to understand emotionally the lingering trauma of war and discrimination, and also the healing power of community and art."
Yet the feelings and the sense of history have added effect because the film is laced with issues of race, homelessness, wartime atrocities, health care and an assortment of other concerns. When she first met Jimmy Mirikitani, he was living on the streets of New York City in January 2001, creating art, which he would sell to support himself rather than simply taking money from strangers. As they bonded, Hattendorf discovered that Mirikitani was a Japanese American who had survived internment during World War II here in the U.S., and eventually lost much of his family as a result of the atomic blast that hit Hiroshima. The only thing that kept him going was his dedication to his art, and it is his work and its impression on Hattendorf that compelled her to help him re-claim a space and community for himself, while also re-connecting with a long-lost older sister and other survivors from the internment camp.
Our city streets teem unnecessarily with homeless men, women and children with stories that deserve to be heard and lives in need of reclamation.
So often we avoid making eye contact with the people we pass everyday, but Hattendorf got engaged in this case. And her film documents not just Mirikitani's history, but also her own role as someone who did more than stand by and watch from a distance.
Mirikantani's struggles are the struggles of our society. How do we assist the elderly now that we are able to live longer? How do we deal with the displaced, the dissenters and the artists living on the fringes?
The Cats of Mirikitani screens 7 p.m. Nov. 27-29 at the Cincinnati Art Museum's Fath Auditorium. Director Linda Hattendorf will be on hand for post-film discussions after each screening. $9, $7 for CAM members and students. For more information and tickets, go to www.cincyworldcinema.org or call 859-781-8151. (See Events.) — TT STERN-ENZI
Thanksgiving time often brings out the best in people, particularly local musicians who frequently organize benefits for a variety of purposes around the holiday. This Wednesday's concert at Oakley's 20th Century Theater has an extra layer of "good-vibey" goodness, as the cause couldn't be closer to the hearts of innumerable local music fans and players. Since über-bassist CHRIS WALKER was seriously injured in a car accident a few months ago, the "Friends for Chris Walker" organization (and others) have thrown several benefits to help the professional musician while he is unable to work. Wednesday's show is another benefit, this time featuring award-winning Hip Hop crew Animal Crackers, Freekbass and a special reunion performance by '90s Cincy Funk favorites, SHAG. (pictured) (Another popular local band, Homunculus, is also reuniting for the same cause; they play the Southgate House Dec. 29.) Bootsy Collins and his wife, Patti, host the 20th Century event, which will also include a silent auction featuring numerous items donated by local businesses (everything from autographed music memorabilia to gift cards). If you were to judge a music scene based solely on the participants' ability to rally together in support of one of their own, then Cincinnati might just be the best there is. $10, $12 day of show. 513-731-8000. (See Music.) — MIKE BREEN
WEDNESDAY 11/21 FRIDAY-SUNDAY 11/23-25
Bob & Tom staple TODD YOHN is unique among comedy troubadours. For starters, he has a songwriting contract with MCA publishing in Nashville. Mixing funny songs with traditional stand-up and a little improv, Yohn has become quite a big draw in clubs across the country. His better known tunes include "The Feminine Hygiene Song," "Orange Barrels" and "Siamese Twins." The latter is indicative of his sometimes silly sense of humor. "I'm in love with Siamese Twins," he sings, "I don't know where the hell one of them ends and the other begins. I dig her heavens know from her heads down to her toes — all 20 of them." Of course, he can also deliver laughs without his guitar. "I was stuck in an elevator once for about an hour and a half. I used the emergency phone, and the guy said they'd take care of things. Then he said, "Just stay where you are." Yohn performs at Go Bananas in Montgomery. $10-$15. 513-984-9288 or www.gobananas.com. (See Onstage.) — P.F. WILSON
Even as everyone around you dives fork-first into the Thanksgiving Day binge, there are solid countercultural alternatives that can drive away the holiday fatigue. The 98th annual THANKSGIVING DAY RACE 10K walk and run begins at 9 a.m. at Bob Ronker's Running Spot in O'Bryonville and will charge up your body before that tryptophan in the turkey turns you to jello. $35. Register at Bob Ronker's through Wednesday. www.thanksgivingdayrace.com or 513-943-0400. You can also dine in solidarity with Cincinnati's poor at OUR DAILY BREAD soup kitchen's Thanksgiving Day meal, 1730 Race St., Over-the-Rhine. Free meals are served 10-11:45 a.m. 513-621-6364. Finally, if you still feel the urge to flex out the holiday rigor mortis, the RUMPKE MOUNTAIN BOYS, winners of the Best Bluegrass Artist in this year's Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, play the Brothel @ East End Cafe in Columbia-Tusculum at 8 p.m. Cover charge. (See Sports and Music.) 513-321-3278. — STEPHEN CARTER-NOVOTNI
If the cloudy days and chill in the air are starting to get to you, stop by FOCUS GALLERY in Covington for its uplifting exhibition, Caregiving. The show features artists Arynn Blazer and Katie Swartz (artwork pictured). The pairing works well: both treat their varied subjects with an almost tangible affection. Swartz bases her work around vintage photographs from travel magazines, and Blazer paints or embroiders her subjects in simple yet distinctive forms. While it is tempting to call their work cute, there's still a depth found in much of it. Swartz uses international imagery of people and re-imagines their environments with bold shapes and patterns, accenting them with beads, glitter, stitching and crocheted frames. The effect feels like a personal and whimsical mishmash of Gustav Klimt, graphic design and the Discovery Channel. Caregiving continues through Nov. 30. Focus Gallery is open 2-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 859-261-0410. (See Art.) — ANGELA KILDUFF
We're going to give you a bonafide news scoop here this week. Although officials are trying to keep it a secret, reliable sources say Santa Claus will arrive at Fountain Square Friday for the annual Christmas tree lighting by helicopter. That's right, boys and girls, Rudolph be damned. Ol' Kris Kringle is making like an action hero this year and is reportedly going to be lowered onto the square from a whirly-bird. The arrival is part of the LIGHT UP THE SQUARE event. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. with holiday music and ice-skating performances. Santa's arrival and the lighting of the tree are scheduled to occur sometime between 6:30 and 7 p.m., with fireworks capping off the event afterward. A 41-foot tree at the corner of Fifth and Vine will be covered in 3,600 white lights and red stars, which are donated by Macy's Department Store. (Red stars, it should be noted, are Macy's corporate symbol. Would it be Scrooge-like to ask if the tree can be decked out next year with the Target department store chain's bulls-eye symbol?) Fountain Square's wintertime ice skating rink will reopen for public skating at 8 p.m. and stay open until 11 p.m. The extravaganza is organized by the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), which assumed management of the square from the city in 2006. 513-621-4400 or visit www.myfountainsquare.com. (See Holiday.) — KEVIN OSBORNE
There are a few Cincinnati traditions that make the Thanksgiving holiday weekend complete. The most brilliant is the FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS, celebrating 25 years at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. This year the event is more than a display of 2.5 million lights. There's the film The Polar Express showing in the Zoo's new 4-D Special FX Theater and ice carvers using chisels and chainsaws to turn giant blocks of ice into beautiful holiday sculptures every night at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. Not up for the outdoors? The day after Thanksgiving is the official start to the 62nd showing the WORLD'S LARGEST MODEL TRAIN DISPLAY at the Duke Energy building. The theme of this year's display is Winter Dreams with the centerpiece of a snow covered gazebo in the town square and a reindeer-drawn sleigh heading towards town full of large white snowballs. The Festival of Lights is free for members and included with the price of zoo admission. $8-$13. 513-475-6124. The Miniature Train Display is free. 513-287-1500. (See Attractions or Holiday.) — MARGO PIERCE
It's your last chance to see Contemporary Works By Anthony Luensman and Shawna Guip, which closes at the PHYLLIS WESTON-ANNIE BOLLING GALLERY on Saturday. Luensman has had exhibitions in every place from Taiwan to Louisville, and his museum-wide show at the Cincinnati Art Museum has made him a veritable artstar. He works in almost all media, but is most well known for his technology-based sculpture. In the WestonBolling exhibition, however, Luensman plays with photography. The work, both whimsical and provocative, "underscores the tradition of the male torso with puns derived from penny arcades, peep show fetish, River Phoenix and Pinocchio capitalism." Bolling and Weston made a perfect match for Luensman in Cincinnati-based artist Shawna Guip. Guip also plays with an assortment of media, each allowing her a new space to explore the connections and misconnections between synthetic objects and the natural world, between human beings and the world they've created. Both Luensman and Guip focus their art on human perceptions. Examining a certain worldview, both artists manage to unravel much of what society assumes is truth. 513-321-5200. (See Art.) — LAURA JAMES
Edgy theater needs as much support as more traditional, conservative forms — maybe more. It still costs something to put it on, even if the audiences are sometimes smaller. So fund-raising is important. But edgy theater requires edgy fund-raising, and that's what you'll get at Jasper's Restaurant & Nightclub (3187 Linwood Ave., Mount Lookout) with an evening that's designed to support the Satori Group, recent college grads who have brought innovative works and productions to several area stages in the past six months. Their performers will be part of 12TH & MIDNIGHT: A NIGHT OF SURPRISING DECADENCE, offering an "invisible theater" murder mystery throughout the evening. Other attractions will include multiple CEA nominee Charlie Clark and his wife Greta performing standards and show tunes from 9-10 p.m.; a stand-up routine by Linda Gambino (the 2006 "Funniest Person in Cincinnati") at 11 p.m.; and a Rock n' Soul show by the band 12th & Midnight (they'll be playing until 2 a.m.). There's a $10 cover charge, which includes a ticket for the midnight raffle drawing. It will be worth a stop for both the entertainment and a good cause — support for our local theater scene. 513-871-6789. (See Onstage.) — RICK PENDER
BALLUMINARIA is a holiday tradition that does more than light up your driveway. The whole candles-in-a-perforated-bag thing has nothing on Eden Park's large-scale light show. Almost a dozen full-size hot-air balloons will be tethered to the ground around Mirror Lake, and, as it gets dark, the flames inside the balloons will be lit. Instead of taking off, the balloons become giant luminaria. And if giant glowing orbs aren't exciting enough for you, you'll be able to eat some roasted almonds while wearing a balloon hat and talking to Santa Claus. He's making a special stop in Eden Park, along with some of Cincinnati's finest mounted police, for a little holiday music, magic and hot chocolate. 4-6 p.m. Saturday. Rain date: Nov. 25. There will be a free shuttle running from 1009 Gilbert Ave., next to the Greyhound station, from 4-6:30 p.m. Free. 513-352-4080. (See Events.) — MAIJA ZUMMO