We Talk to the Producer of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival
What's better than watching a bunch of cat videos? How about watching a bunch of swankily edited cat videos projected and presented on a giant scale? That's the plan when the Internet Cat Video Film Festival hits Brooklyn on Oct. 25.
The festival came from a brainstorming session at the Walker Art Center. Scott Stulen from the organization says the event is about "people coming together and sharing the cat culture they love in a real life space." Sounds like a must-attend function to me.
Ahead of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival's Brooklyn bow, I spoke to Scott about the current trends in cat videos and the most bizarre cat footage he's seen. I also got him to reveal the all-star feline guests who will be present and prowling around the event.
Catster: What's the idea behind the Internet Cat Video Film Festival?
Scott Stulen: It started in 2012, and it came out of a program here at the Walker Art Center where we have a platform to present things in a different context and really bring people into a social space. This was about taking content people experience online by themselves on their computers and allowing them to experience it all together. We put out a call for nominations and we had 10,000 videos within a month! For the first festival we weren't sure what to expect, but 10,000 people turned up for it.
Which cat videos caught your eye the most during the initial batch of submissions?
There's a wide variety -- we had to pick from the whole history of Internet cat videos! There are the videos everyone knows really well, like Maru, but I think what's been fun over the two years of doing the festivals is coming across videos that aren't well-known. It's like finding these secret gems.
I notice at the festival that people really want a mix. I use the comparison to a classic rock band playing where people want to hear the hits and not the new album, and I think it's a bit like that -- they want to see a few new things, but they also want to see those cat videos they've seen many times but with thousands of other people.
How does viewing a cat video along with other people change the experience of it?
Well, there's this content that you really usually watch by yourself but now you're with thousands of people all laughing at the same time. Or you notice that everyone knows all the words to a song and they are all singing along to it. Whether it's a sporting event or going to a concert, there's something different about being there on a bigger scale. You really can't replicate the experience online. It comes back to people really wanting to have a moment of joy, and this festival brings them a couple of hours of joy.
Are there any specific cat videos that work much better being watched on a bigger scale?
It's kind of surprising how many really translate to the scale very well. Those short cellphone captured videos of the cat doing something funny work really well, and in this year's festival we're going to have a whole section of Vine videos -- six-second looping videos -- and those seem to translate great because they move very quickly. On the other end there are some that are like short cinematic films, like the Henri videos, that are about the tormented existential French cat, which also come across really well.
The ones that tend to not translate so well and don't get put into the reel are the ones that are made really slow-moving and become a really long video -- it's kind of like the Internet itself, where the attention span is short, and we try to keep the festival moving at a quick and entertaining pace.
So how many videos can people expect to see at the festival?
We have around 80 videos that play over a span of 75 minutes. There's a lot packed in there, and nearly every video has been edited in some way. They're put into categories like comedy, drama, foreign film, documentary, and there's a few interludes with a cat montage. It's not just like watching a YouTube playlist in sequence -- it's something that's more produced than that. And the show reel isn't available online anywhere -- this is the only place you'll be able to see it all.
What's the most bizarre cat video you've come across?
There's one that I really like that's in this year's reel. It's by an artist in Canada and it's called Cats and Pants. It's alternating photos of cats and pants using clip-art pulled from bad photos and things that she's found online, and then it's her voicing it saying "cats and pants" over and over again. It's really weird and I really like it.
Why are people so obsessed with cat videos?
People love cats and they love their pets, so making a video of their cat is a natural thing. You have this subject matter that's living with you in your home and it's always present.
I think the difference between cats and dogs when it comes to the popularity of videos is that dogs want to perform for the camera and cats couldn't care less, which makes them a very intriguing subject. I also think there's something about cats that lends them to us putting almost human characteristics and personalities onto them. There might be something funny happening in the video, but it's also putting the human characteristics onto the cat.
Are there any types of cat videos that you're sick of seeing by now?
Oh, yeah, there is! It's interesting to watch things evolve. This year we had a lot of videos that really tried to mimic that Henri style with a voiceover, and also a lot of these longer, more cinematic videos, and a lot of them aren't done very well. I'm kinda sick of seeing those copies.
I think for the most part the ones that are most tiring are the ones that are so badly trying to copy another viral video and thinking there's a formula to it. I really don't think there's a formula. The ones that work are because something charming and cute happens that wasn't planned. You can't manufacture cat videos.
What's the Cat Hall of Fame about?
That's something we've started. We inducted seven cat videos into our Hall of Fame this year at the event in Minneapolis. We had five of the seven inductees present, so that was Nyan Cat, Keyboard Cat, Henri, Kittens Inspired by Kittens, and Lil Bub. Actually, Henri and Lil Bub will be at the Brooklyn event.
Do the cats seem to care about their Hall of Fame trophies?
I don't think the cats care about the trophies at all! I think their humans do though.
Have you developed a new-found respect for cat videos since starting the festival?
I have, especially when it comes to their power and what they're able to do. I definitely have a newfound respect for the amount of work that goes into some of them and that they're not just things that randomly appear. I've also gotten to meet a lot of people involved with them. Using someone like Lil Bub and Mike, they've gotten to be able to take their fame from the videos to not only supporting themselves to do other things, but they've given thousands of dollars to nonprofits and animal shelters through this.
Do you consider pet videos to be art?
I get that question all of the time and my stock answer is usually, "No, I don't really care." But like anything else I think some of them are and some of them aren't. There are some I'd be comfortable presenting as art, like the Henri videos, but I think there's definitely something happening here where people are responding to YouTube videos and they're sharing them and producing them by the millions. For an institution like us, we need to respond to something that has so much traction in popular culture and I think by curating them in this way, that's art.
Are you able to predict the next trend in cat videos?
I think the way it's going I'm seeing more of these short Vine videos, which is people following the technology. So the two trends I'm seeing are, first, these short like Instagram or Vine videos, and then the other trend is really well shot high-definition short films. It's kinda the two extremes. A lot of it's due to the technology available -- everyone has a smart phone now with HD video built into it.
Do you have any cats yourself?
That's the irony in that I've had cats all through growing up, but my wife and my son are allergic so at the moment I do not have a cat.
So you've never made a cat video?
I have made cat videos in the past, but I've never posted them!
For more information on the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, head over to the official Facebook page.
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About Phillip Mlynar: The self-appointed world's foremost expert on rappers' cats. When not penning posts on rap music, he can be found building DIY cat towers for his adopted domestic shorthair, Mimosa, and collecting Le Creuset cookware (in red). He has also invented cat sushi, but it's not quite what you think it is.