It doesn’t matter if they’re playing the keyboard, pretending to be a burrito or just being grumpy— cats are everywhere online, and the internet just can’t seem to get enough.
It’s a cultural obsession that Scott Stulen, a curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, took note of in early 2012. Despite not being a cat owner himself (his entire family is allergic), Stulen blissfully watched the bizarre and affectionate felines through the comfort of his YouTube stream—an experience that gave him the idea for the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival.
The film festival, which has gone from a dream of Stulen’s to an actual festival garnering international attention and acclaim, is going on tour this fall and plans to make a stop in Chicago on Oct. 19.
Stulen, 38, said the idea for the film festival originated as part of the Walker Art Center’s Open Field project, an annual event that works to incorporate art and outdoor space. When Stulen and another staff member hatched the plan for the film fest, they figured the first run would be “relatively small.”
And it most likely would have been, until an article appeared on gossip news website Gawker a mere two hours later, with the headline “And So It Begins: Internet Cat Video Film Festival to Take Place Next Month in Minneapolis.” The post instantly went viral.
“We received 5,000 video nominations in the first week,” said Stulen of the first festival in August 2012, which ended up hosting more than 10,000 attendees. “It far exceeded our wildest expectations.”
After being “inundated” with requests to take it on tour, the film festival returned just last month to its hometown of Minneapolis and announced a 20-city tour for the upcoming months, including a stop in Chicago on Oct. 19.
Stulen and the Walker Art Center are partnering with Chicago Cat Rescue, a Lincoln Park-based animal rescue organization, to bring the festival to Chicago, which will take place at the Irish-American Heritage Center (4626 N. Knox Ave.). Allison Brock, a volunteer with Chicago Cat Rescue, promises to transform the center “into a cat-lovers wonderland” featuring music, family-friendly activities, refreshments and giveaways.
“We are expecting an audience of approximately 3,500 Chicago cat lovers,” said Brock, who is not ruling out the possibility of an appearance from a “cat-lebrity” or two.
“[We have] placed calls to the agents of some cat celebrities, and their agents are currently checking the schedules,” she said.
The festival will run for 75 minutes, and there will be five showings throughout the day (every two hours starting at noon). The videos are divided up into five categories: comedy, drama, documentary, foreign and musical, and the festival winner will be awarded the coveted Golden Kitty.
From the content presented at the festival to the name itself, every part of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival (affectionately referred to as CatVidFest by its creators and many fans) seems like, well, kind of a joke. Stulen tackled this paradox of a renowned art center staging a festival of homemade feline films, admitting the organizers are “not exactly declaring all of this to be art.”
“Some people might say we’re destroying the institution,” Stulen said. “But some of the videos are art. They’re intriguing, and they raise questions. Anytime you have content that millions of people are sharing, there is something going on there.”
One of those artists is Chicago-based filmmaker and writer Alana Grelyak, whose film “Catalogue” has received close to half a million views and will be featured at the Chicago festival. The premise of the four-minute feature, which was directed by Grelyak’s huband, Michael Gabriele, was inspired by the couple’s own cat, Rocky.
“I was lying in bed and I realized [Rocky] perfectly matched the duvet,” said Grelyak, who lives in River North. “I said to my husband ‘Wouldn’t that be great if when you ordered a bedroom set, they delivered a matching cat?’ I knew this had to be a movie.”
Much like the film festival, “Catalogue” went viral soon after its online debut— Grelyak’s work was featured on "Good Morning America" and NPR. The 33-year-old filmmaker will be making an appearance at the Chicago festival and uses the attention to promote her cat’s blog, CatintheFridge.com, which raises awareness for special-needs animals.
So why is the internet so crazy for cats?
“With dogs, there are lots of opportunities to go out and be social,” Stulen said. “But cats are much more introverted, so in a way, the internet is like the dog park for cats. They have these moments that we only get to share through the internet and video.”
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