The cat’s pajamas
Rockland — Cat videos are so ubiquitous on the Internet, it was only a matter of time before an offline festival for them came about. That it did so at a renowned contemporary art museum is perhaps a bit more surprising; the inaugural Internet Cat Video Festival took place two years ago at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minn.
Since the somewhat unexpected success of that first ICVF, the festival has grown, not just at Walker but also in an increasingly wide circle of tour stops. This year, the national tour is coming to the Midcoast, sponsored by the Farnsworth Art Museum, Saturday, Aug. 23, in Rockland Harbor Park. The 8 p.m. showing of some 90 short videos on a big outdoor screen will be preceded by a feline-themed fair beginning at 5 p.m.
The Farnsworth is an official stop for the still- touring 2013 festival reel. This year’s fest was held Aug. 14 and was curated by Will Braden, who won the coveted Golden Kitty award at the inaugural fest for “Henri 2, Paw De Deux.” The ennui-laden two-minute short in luscious black and white was declared by the late Roger Ebert “the best internet cat video ever made” and was screened in an Animal Planet show a month after the festival. “Henri 2,” sequel to 2007’s “Henri le Chat,” Braden’s film project at the Seattle Film Institute, has been followed by several more narrated-in-French films starring a constantly-in-existential-crisis black and white cat; the latest, “Blight of Spring,” was in the 2014 fest.
“I’ve managed to make producing cat videos my livelihood,” said Braden a day before heading to Minneapolis.
Selecting which of the thousands of cat videos popping up online to include begins with a public submission call. Anyone can nominate a favorite video, not just filmmakers, and Braden said that helps make the initial choices.
“If the same video gets nominated 10 or 15 times, you know it has a certain something,” he said.
As anyone who has killed some time watching cat videos knows, there is a wide range of subject matter and filmmaking skills out there.
“There are a lot of different kinds! There are things like ‘Henri’ and people filming their cats on their cellphones — they’re both cat videos,” he said.
Braden said he relied on a couple of criteria when he began curating this year’s fest. Clarity and concision are primary — viewers have to know what’s going on in a video, and the video can’t be too long. And the best videos have the most funny or interesting element right at the end.
“That’s the kind of thing that goes viral,” Braden said, adding that he also stuck to videos that were truly about cats, rather than their owners.
After an initial cut was made, Braden worked with a few jurors to whittle the list down to a couple hundred, from which he made the final selection of just fewer than 100 short films. One might think the genre comprises only the history of the Internet, but the 2014 festival includes a vintage section.
“The oldest clip is from 1897,” he said. “But about half of them are from the past year.”
The 2013 reel that will be screened in Rockland includes a similar mix, with Hall of Fame inductees including such classics as the 8-bit animation-style “Nyan Cat” and the bordering-on-manic “Kittens Inspired by Kittens.”
In announcing the local tour stop, the Farnsworth indicated the art museum is sponsoring the Internet Cat Video Festival because its subject matter does many of the things compelling art should — raise questions, challenge assumptions, surprise people and, in the case of the fest, create a real, multisensory experience. Braden bears witness to the latter as he travels around the country with ‘Henri’ and the ICVF.
“These events always go well and are well attended,” said Braden, who has overseen screenings for thousands of viewers and “80 in a bar in Oakland.”
“Really, cat videos play to any demographic,” he said.
There is no charge for Rockland’s inaugural Internet Cat Video Festival, supported in part by Pen Bay Veterinary Associates, Inc., which will host a stuffed animal M.A.S.H. unit; the Strand Theatre and Pope Memorial Humane Society of Knox County, which will have adoptable cats on site.
Viewers are encouraged to bring blankets to sit on … and to come early for the fair, produced by The Collective. Highlights include a cat costume contest, to be judged by WCSH reporter Don Carrigan and the cats Wally and Togus Junior (who have taken over for the famed Togus the Cat); games, food vendors, art activities and other feline-themed shenanigans. PAWS Animal Adoption Center will have a Cat Cuddle Booth featuring adoptable cats “willing and able to give you a furry fix of unconditional love for the day.”