Who sits in a field on a summer night and watches back-to-back viral cat videos? Whoever they were, more than 10,000 of them showed up at the Cat Video Festival on Thursday, according to Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, which hosted the event. And don’t picture a field full of elderly women crocheting in folding chairs while giggling at Maru sliding into tiny boxes.
Instead envision people of various ages — and practically as many men as women — packed shoulder-to-shoulder, howling en masse at kittens riding atop a robotic vacuum cleaner, simultaneously melting as a mama kitty hugs her sleeping baby, and wildly cheering as the world-famous Maru appears onscreen, larger and cuter than we’ve ever seen him. The vibe rivaled any outdoor rock festival — and the fans were equally as passionate.
Katie Hill, Walker’s unofficial "catlady-in-residence" and creator of the festival, said she’s surprised at the amount of attention the festival has garnered. What began as a conference-room conversation and vision of perhaps a dozen people huddled around a laptop at a picnic table became a big phenomenon.
The festival is part of the Walker’s Open Field programming. "Open Field is a cultural commons," Hill says. "Physically, it is the green space next to the Walker Art Center. We try to activate the space with public programs that we design, as well as invite the public to propose programming. Theoretically, Open Field is what we make together."
Like cat videos? Well, yes. Like cat videos.
"It’s a platform for experimentation with programs based in sharing, learning, exploring, making and having fun," she says. "I would not have had the idea to show cat videos out in the open like this without having this context in mind."
The festival’s tremendous response is no surprise to cat lovers, but some people outside the online cat community are still asking, "Really?"
"I do think there is something universally appealing about a silly cat jumping in and out of boxes," Hill says. "And cats are such curious creatures; perhaps they just get into more mischief and are therefore easier to get on video? Whatever it is, there is a cultural relevance to Internet cat videos and what exactly this means about our world and the Internet is yet to be determined (by me at least), but it does raise a lot of interesting questions."
The festival received more than 10,000 nominations from around the world — and Hill watched all of them. The chosen videos were presented by the categories of Comedy, Drama, Foreign, Animated, Musical, Documentary, Art House, and ending in Lifetime Achievement (including the multimillion-hit sensations Kittens Inspired by Kittens, Surprised Kitty, and Keyboard Cat) and People’s Choice.
Lots of the videos will be familiar to Catster readers, including Maru and the Sliding Boxes, Two Talking Cats, and Cat Mom Hugs Baby Kitten — all of which are part of “The 10 Cutest Cat Videos of All Time” by Stephanie Harwin. Also screened were Nononono Cat and Nyan Cat.
A couple of other favorites are below:
That second video played a special role at the event. As if the crowd wasn’t wowed enough, the finale was the presentation of the People’s Choice Golden Kitty Award, based on online voting. The winner was Henri 2, Paw de Deux and the creator, William Braden, was on hand to receive it.
"This is a great honor," he said. "I don’t think I’ve ever purred this loudly."
As the winner of the Golden Kitty, Henri 2 will receive airtime during Animal Planet’s My Cat from Hell on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 8 p.m.
Braden wasn’t the only well-known festival attendee. Lil Bub, the sweet kitty girl with an impressive fan base all her own, arrived to an adoring crowd. She was born with genetic mutations, and her foster parents had difficulty finding her a home. Finally adopted by loving cat guy, she is now queen of the castle and has collected more than 43,000 Facebook fans. Sure, a few other attendees brought their cats to the festivities, but none attracted quite the attention as Lil Bub.
Speaking of adoption and advocacy, Feline Rescue, Animal Humane Society, and Wildcat Sanctuary were on hand with booths and information about adoption and acting locally in the interest of animals. With such a captive audience of cat lovers, they were busy. Kudos to the Walker for its foresight in combining the fun of cat video-watching with the real business of ending cat overpopulation and cruelty.
Will there be another Cat Video Festival? Hill initially said, "At this point we are just trying to get through this festival, and then we’ll see what happens next," but as the hosts bid the crowd farewell Thursday evening, the final words of "See you next year!" indicate we have not seen the last of this extraordinary event. Hill viewed the festival as a social experiment and wondered whether the online cat community would even venture outdoors. Well, now we know the answer.