Meet the Wise Guys behind the S.F. Intergalactic Feline Film and Video Festival for Humans
Cats own the Internet. We at Catster so steadfastly believe it that we named a story category for it. Just scroll to the end of these words and pictures and see for yourself. Team Catster also steadfastly believes that cats can be thrilled one minute and bored the next, ever in search of new challenges. My gray tabby Thomas illustrates this daily. One minute he’s chasing the Bird on a String like a seven-year-old boy pursuing a fire truck whose crew is giving away ice cream and Mickey Mouse balloons, but the next he’s all, “What bird?” and “Who are you again?” Then he walks into the garage in search of spiders.
If the Internet is that Bird on a String, then the garage full of spiders is the concept of the film and video festival. Cats are walking from the computer screen onto the big screen because they need new territory to conquer. We blame the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for accommodating this migration in 2012. That event, which drew some 10,000 eager humans, was the first Catster assignment for rising star Angie Bailey. A few months later another of our regulars, JaneA Kelley, proclaimed the cat video festival in general “a thing.” She warned that one might happen close to you. In this case, it’s happening close to me, on May 10, in the form of the the First Annual San Francisco Intergalactic Feline Film + Video Festival for Humans.
This is no small thing, this SFIFFAVFFH1, as its backers call it. Those backers are Jay Wertzler and Mike Keegan. They’ve recruited Lil BUB (who visited Catster in 2013 and whose Dude I interviewed a few weeks later) as well as a new cat on the Internet scene, Owlbert.
Jay and Mike also recruited numerous talented filmmakers to supply material for the festival, partly through Mike’s job at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, the venue that will host the cat fest. (Full disclosure: I relied on Mike for images and other material on Roxie events when I was an arts editor at an alt-newsweekly -- he's a remarkable man -- but I didn’t realize the connection until the interview.)
Speaking of the interview, I deduced from the heavy use of sarcasm and absurd humor in the festival’s promotional material (see some on Facebook) that Jay and Mike are smart-alecks of the highest order, so I tilted my questions accordingly. They did not disappoint in their replies. I hope you’ll laugh as much as I did. And if you live in the Bay Area, I hope to see you at SFIFFAVFFH1 on May 10.
The Cat Dandy: What moved you to produce SFIFFAVFFH1?
Mike Keegan: There is an Intergalactic Feline Film + Video shaped hole in San Francisco, and we intend to fill it. Plus, by the time we open our doors on May 10, it will have been more than 24 hours since the last major film festival in our fair city, and we simply cannot abide that.
Jay Wertzler: For me, it really stemmed from my desire to bring the community together around the type of film culture that isn’t as easily available as it should and could be. Also, Toxoplasma gondii.
Why so short an acronym?
MK: Marketing purposes.
JW: It’s a hashtag world, we just live in it.
In your online promo you mention a tradition of groundbreaking cat films such as Birth of a Kitten Nation and The Jazz Purrer. The latter, if I remember correctly, was the first non-silent cat film, the first “talkie” -- or would it be “meowie?” Considering that cats rely so heavily on dramatic vocalization, what did they do before there was sound in motion pictures?
MK: Sadly, the advent of sync-sound motion pictures wiped out regional cat dialects.
JW: It’s also worth noting that those original cat films were super racist against dogs, and the things they were saying were totally not cool.
The festival, which by its very name is the “first annual,” opens with a look back at its history. Do you have a time machine? And more importantly, do you know David Tennant?
MK: Cannot talk about that at the risk of jeopardizing our future.
The second part of the festival includes “some of independent cinema’s most formidable auteurs” as well as filmmakers from “the opposite end of the spectrum.” So it’s a pro-am situation? Did you curate the more professional films or call on people whose work you already knew?
MK: In my day job as programmer of the Roxie, I have cultivated relationships with the most daring filmmakers of the past, present, and future, and they were eager and willing to help out on our grand endeavor.
JW: It’s a great mix of original new pieces and previously unseen work from film festival veterans and award winners. Filmmakers are cat freaks just like the rest of us.
How did you collect the “other end of the spectrum” works, or are you still collecting them?
MK: Our submissions ended April 18, but we are making special exceptions for budding cat-teurs who reach out about late inclusion.
JW: We’ve got a special submission form here. Just scroll to the bottom of that page and click the big blue button. It’s probably the fastest way to an IMDB credit ever.
What can you tell us about individual works from either end of the spectrum? Do you have favorites? Can you say anything about them that would pique people’s interest?
JW: I’ve been consistently astounded by the quality of submissions from the public. We were expecting a lot of long takes, and entries that featured an omnipotent narrator attempting to coax a reluctant cat into doing a trick like some dumb dog. What we got was an assortment of actual narrative and documentary shorts that are so amazingly off-the-wall and creative that we can legitimately sell tickets.
MK: So far, I’ve been shocked at the relative lack of vertically shot videos.
The event closes with you giving an award for Advancement of Cat by Humans to “a very special guest.” What more can you say about the award itself, and can you give us any hint as to the special guest?
JW: We’re psyched to present The First Annual Founders’ Trophy to the Los Angeles video collective Everything Is Terrible.
MK: When Everything Is Terrible uploaded the infamous Cat Massage video onto the Internet on Aug. 18, 2009, the collective changed the game. By giving the members a physical trophy five years later, the game has been changed again.
On a broader note, films and videos about cats -- as well as cat celebrities such as Grumpy Cat, Henri le Chat Noir and Lil Bub -- are gaining cultural momentum like a gigantic ball of yarn rushing through humanity’s living room. What does this say about our race, its relationship with felines, and your place in that mix?
JW: I think it says that they are pretty f'ing cute, and you’re a horrible person if you think otherwise. Also, there are a lot of lonely, single people out there.
MK: Ancient aliens, Egypt, time is a circle, and so on.
Do you hope to draw people who don’t know much about cats? If so, what do you hope to teach them? Do you have a secret agenda for “cat conversion"?
JW: I know I just implied in the previous question that, if you don’t like cats, you probably have something wrong with you. Like, genetically. What I meant to say was that people who don’t like cats should definitely buy tickets to the festival, because You’ll Never Believe the 9 Things That Cats Do That Would Be Weird if Humans Did Them.*
*not actually part of the program, but probably an actual article somewhere
MK: I’m trying to remember if cats were a part of that movie Dogtooth, that’s the only circumstance I can imagine someone being unfamiliar with them.
What roles do cats play in your lives? Have either or both of you lived with cats?
JW: I’ve lived with cats since a very young age, so almost certainly I have been infected with Toxoplasma gondii.* Cougar is an 11-year-old Nebelung whose beautiful visage is featured on our poster.
*joke (see also: not serious)
MK: I’m very, very allergic and can’t be around cats at all. I can only experience them through the magic of cinema.
Another serious question: You don’t want people to bring cats to the festival. There are people who might not understand why. What would you say to them?
JW: It’s in Owlbert’s rider that the theater must be feline-free. Other demands include an array of freshly caught fish (local, organic) and a copy of Fitzcarraldo on Blu-Ray, on repeat in the green room.
MK: I’m so allergic to cats, I’m putting a furry gun to my temple by even having Lil BUB and Owlbert there. Super allergic.
The festival takes place at the Roxie Theater, a venue I know pretty well from my time covering the arts in San Francisco. What can you say about the Roxie?
JW: There’s no better place in the city to be intoxicated and watch something weird and original on the big screen.
MK: The Roxie is the only place daring enough to allow this to happen within its storied walls.
Is there anything I haven’t asked about SFIFFAVFFH1 that you want to say?
JW: You laugh now, but we’ll see you at the Catstro Theatre for SFIFFAVFFH50.
Back to the time-machine thing: If you do know David Tennant, could you get me and my cat a ride in the TARDIS?
MK: Seriously, dude, cannot talk about that. Check back in one year.
I love these guys.
So where were we? Yes. The questions for you: Have you been to a cat film and video festival? Have you shot film or video of your cat? Has anyone ever asked you to dress up as a cat to be in such a movie? Have you ever offered, unbidden? Do you plan to attend SFIFFAVFFH1? Tell me in the comments.
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About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called "a high-powered mutant," which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster and Dogster.