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Friday 12/13 - Thursday 12/19

DECEMBER

13 FRIDAY Bassist and experimental filmmaker Tatsu Aoki spent nearly four years capturing images for his recent 16-millimeter film, Puzzle Part 2, a 45-minute rumination on the process of thinking. "The images are generated by accident...when the film slips out of the gate during shooting," he explains. "Of course, in order to make the piece I had to simulate the accident over and over again." At tonight's screening, Aoki's autobiographical Super-8 film Decades Passed--the latest in a series he's been working on for 20 years--will be shown in a 16-millimeter version along with Puzzle Part 2, with live accompaniment by guitarist Jeff Parker. It starts at 8 in Columbia College's Ferguson Hall, 600 S. Michigan (773-293-1447). Admission is $10.

14 SATURDAY Lake View Funeral Home president Ray Hallowell says he instituted a free holiday memorial service 13 years ago because he "had personal losses that opened my eyes to the need for something like this." Anyone who's lost a loved one is welcome to attend the service, which includes singing, prayers, and a candle-lighting ceremony. "The theme is always remembering those who have died and giving blessings for lives shared," says Hallowell. "There's comfort in that." The service is today at 11 AM at the funeral home, 1458 W. Belmont. Lake View also offers free 8- to 12-week grief support sessions; the next starts Monday, December 16, at 7 PM. Call 773-472-6300.

"We've taken stories from our childhood and things that were memorable or life changing--where we said, 'Wow, now I'm an adult,'" says Kerensa Peterson, director of the multidisciplinary performance piece the Women's Project. She and eight local actresses started workshopping it two months ago; vignettes include one participant recounting "the trauma that ensued from having her mom and dad be really proud and excited" when she got her first period and another discussing the first time she was forced to budget her money. The piece won't be completed until May, but the group's offering sneak previews today at 3 and 5:30 at Belle Plaine Studios, 2014 W. Belle Plaine (773-680-8411); admission is $5.

The second annual Friendly Pagans Yule Ritual will celebrate the winter solstice and examine parallels between Christianity and paganism by "taking our participants on a mythic journey," says a spokesperson. "They'll be introduced to some of the original myths that gave rise to the traditional Nativity story...all of which predate Christianity by many hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years." The doors open at 4, the ritual starts at 5, and a potluck supper follows at 6 at the Dance Building, 1330 Webford in Des Plaines. It's free, but participants are encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy for donation, a dish to share, and instruments for caroling. Reservations are recommended; E-mail ssarsen@aol.com or friendly_pagans@yahoo.com.

15 SUNDAY The Dance-Along Nutcracker started in 1985 as a fund-raiser for the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, and is now a holiday institution in the city by the bay. The event makes its Chicago debut this afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center, where Emma Draves and Angel Abecede of Hedwig Dances will demonstrate the basic steps and then lead the dancing. The moves will be "modified and very simple," promises a spokesperson, adding that "if you want to come and tap dance or do modern dance, you're welcome to it." Cabaret duo the Plunging Necklines will emcee and the Lakeside Pride Concert Band will perform selections from Tchaikovsky's score; costumes are encouraged. It's at 3 in Preston Bradley Hall at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, and it's free; call 312-744-6630 for more info.

Today's National Gathering of the Death Row Exonerated is meant to encourage Governor Ryan to grant clemency to the 160 men and women still awaiting execution in Illinois before he leaves office January 13. About 50 former death row prisoners--the largest number ever convened for such a purpose--are expected at today's event, which will include brief talks by ex-prisoners Greg Wilhoit and Gary Gauger as well as by Stephen Bright, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, former Cook County Circuit Court presiding judge Sheila Murphy, and many others. It's sponsored by the Northwestern University School of Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions and takes place from 3 to 6 at the law school's Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago. It's free but reservations are recommended; call 312-503-2391 or see www.centeronwrongfulconvictions.org. On Monday, December 16, 20 or so ex-inmates will take part in a 37-mile relay walk from Stateville Correctional Center (near Joliet) to the James R. Thompson Center, where a letter will be delivered to Governor Ryan asking him to commute outstanding Illinois death sentences to life in prison without parole.

16 MONDAY The Roches "have not performed a legitimate Chicago concert in years," according to Suzzy and Maggie Roche, two-thirds of the folk-pop group. The pair recently released Zero Church, an eclectic album of music that was developed as part of a seminar at playwright Anna Deavere Smith's Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue in which the sisters invited people to give them prayers to set to music. They'll perform tonight at Steppenwolf as part of the theater's "Traffic" series. The concert starts at 7:30 at 1650 N. Halsted and tickets are $28. Call 312-355-1650 or go to www.steppenwolf.org.

17 TUESDAY The Harold Washington 24 is the nom de guerre of a group of experienced librarians from the downtown library who were sent to work at smaller branches last October. They say they're victims of both budget cuts and the ire of library commissioner Mary Dempsey, who told the Reader's Ben Joravsky last month that the moves were "balancing [measures]" that allowed her to fill vacancies without hiring more personnel. The 24 are encouraging others to speak out against their transfers as well as cutbacks in the city's book budget--nearly $2 million over the last seven years--at today's library commission hearing. It's at 10:30 AM at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State (312-747-4300).

18 WEDNESDAY This winter stargazers can expect to see the sparkly Pleiades cluster just after sunset; it will "look like a jewel box in the southern sky," according to an educator at the Adler Planetarium. Jupiter, Saturn, and the bluish green Orion Nebula--a cloud of gas and dust where stars are forming just below Orion's belt--should also be visible from early January through April, and meteor showers will peak on January 3. Adler astronomer emeritus Jim Seevers will explain what to look for and where at tonight's preview of the winter skies in the planetarium's Sky Theater. It's from 7 to 9 at 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive. Admission is $15; to register call 312-322-0551.

When Chicago filmmakers Suree Towfighnia and Courtney Hermann were researching a documentary on the farming of industrial hemp, they kept coming across the case of Alex White Plume, a Lakota Indian who's being sued by the DEA for growing the stuff on the Oglala Sioux Nation's Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. White Plume says the reservation is a sovereign nation that decides what can and cannot be grown there, but the DEA says he's growing pot--despite the fact that industrial hemp contains negligible amounts of THC and can't get you high. White Plume's story, which is still unfolding, is now the centerpiece of Towfighnia and Hermann's unfinished film, Hemp for Sovereignty. A clip will be shown at tonight's fund-raiser, which will also include performances by Ellen Rosner, Stewed Tomatoes, and the Powerknobs as well a raffle and auction. It's at 8 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North (773-278-6600); there's a requested donation of between $10 and $20. For more on the project go to www.prairiedustfilms.com.

19 THURSDAY In the 1880s the City Council mandated that all railroad grades be raised "because there were too many accidents on the street--trains were running into horses, wagons, and buses and slowing down traffic," explains architect Walker C. Johnson. The city encouraged railroads to build steel bascule bridges, whose use of counterweights allows them to be raised and lowered quickly. Most are still standing--including the one permanently in the "up" position at Kinzie behind the Merchandise Mart. Johnson will discuss late-19th-century railroad bridges today at 12:15 as part of the Cultural Center's free "Preservation Snapshots" brown-bag lunch series presented by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. It's at 78 E. Washington; call 312-744-6630.

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