Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Cats of Mirikitani. (2006) Linda Hattendorf

There are some stories that need to make themselves known. It's like they ache to get out for others to hear. I recently wrote about the documentary Prodigal Sons, how its twists could have never been planned. In that aspect it reminded me of Stevie, one of the greatest documentaries I know of. These are stories which begin in one place and end up taking us on a ride of truth that throttles us at once with amazement. The filmmaker starts with one idea in mind but is brought along for the ride by the power of the story itself -- by something they didn't even know was there.

The Cats of Mirikitani is one such story. It is quiet and reflective. Best rented on a peaceful weekend night with a cup of hot tea and the kids already in bed.

Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf began filming, every once in a while, a street artist who lived a block or two away from her in New York City. He lived with his art -- literally -- on the streets where he daily created his paintings. The 9/11 attacks were still coming, and that too plays an important role in the story. I'm certain from the start Hatterndorf never thought Mirikitani would end up living with her. But the events themselves are only a guide to his mysterious past, a past that is captured in his art but not understood by the casual observer. The detail that he is painting, when fully realized and made known, is an incredible discovery which sends both the filmmaker and her roommate on a quest.

I won't say too much more than that. I've already spoiled more than what I knew going in. But I do want to point out the amazing ability of these kinds of stories when they are captured forever on film. There are multiple ways to look at what happens here, and every single way I look at it I can only see the good: the city girl who takes in the street artist who has nowhere left to go; the "beautiful mind" that no one can relate to as the world he inhabits is so different; the artist who works not for others but out of his own need -- the "pure" artist; the man who confronts his tortured past through paintings that no one seems to understand; the dual citizen who is essentially rejected by both countries -- where is he to go?; the government that chose to not only profile its enemy but arrest even its citizens as they were ethnically dangerous; the war-torn family that gets to find each other again, after years of separation and even thinking they are dead.

This easily could have been written off, or worse yet, left undiscovered. It makes me wonder how many great stories are out there that we have no idea exist.

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