Internet Cat Video Fest returns to the Walker

KRISTIN TILLOTSON | Updated 8/11/2014

After experimenting last year at the State Fair, the furry fest pounces back to the Walker's Open Field, free once again.

The first Internet Cat Video Film Festival in 2012.
Craig Lassig • Associated Press

As the dog days of summer wane, the cats return to Open Field.

In its third of what we presume may be nine lives, the original Internet Cat Video Festival is returning home to Walker Art Center’s outdoor space on Thursday, and is once again a free event. After last year’s transfer to the State Fair grandstand, which featured celebri-cat guests and a $10 ticket on top of fair admission, the fest is circling back to its original mission of bringing virtual communities together in the flesh, over their love of furball antics.

This communal gathering to celebrate creatures that turn up their whiskers at communal gatherings is a sort of Comic-Con for feline fanciers, an excuse for people to show up in costumes and face paint, or just to watch a series of short videos featuring cats on a giant screen.

Although the event’s chief sponsor, Animal Planet, is flying in the famous Lil Bub for a repeat appearance (and a meet-and-greet fundraiser elsewhere the following day; see, there will be no other boldface kitty names on the bill.

“We wanted to bring the focus back to the experience of watching cat videos together,” said Sarah Schultz, the Walker’s education director. “Who knows? Maybe this year’s reel will help launch the next big celebrity cat.”

The Walker’s concept has been copied in dozens of other cities since the first event drew a crowd of 10,000 in 2012, but the arts center also takes its festival on tour, with revenue going toward the free Minneapolis event and education programs, she said.

The fest’s video curator — yes, that’s his title, to the consternation of bona fide curators everywhere — is Will Braden of Seattle, whose moodily clever “Henri Le Chat Noir” video won the fest’s first Golden Kitty award.

Braden says he watched at least part of each of the thousands of submissions, with a little culling help from friends and the Walker’s coordinator for the event, Kristina Fong.

“Everyone thinks their cat is special, and they can’t all be right,” he said.

The vids that made the final cut for the reel range from the sophisticated to the sophomoric, “from really nicely produced documentaries to something that just happened when someone pointed a camera at a cat,” Braden said. “There’s a surreal music video by the band Midnight Juggernaut shot against a green screen with the cats’ heads switching bodies, and then there’s a dog and cat walking around a bathtub and suddenly the dog shoves the cat in the water for no reason.”

Braden, who now makes his living entirely on cat videos and their festivals, has been to about 30 such events around the country and says the demographics are pretty much the same at all of them.

“You’ve got young people going in a sort of ironic way, families with kids, crazy cat ladies, couples on dates — it’s a wide spectrum,” he said.

As to whether he’s keeping his résumé up to date for the inevitable tapering off of what must be seen at least partly as a fad, he said, “I’m sure there’ll be a tipping point, but it hasn’t happened yet. People are still uploading cat videos at the rate of thousands a day.”

The Walker advises bringing a blanket on the thick side, as much of the ground on the field is covered in wood chips. In case of rain, the event will be moved to Aug. 21.

If you’re thinking of toting along your own precious kitty, take note. The Walker “strongly encourages” you not to, as it will have no shade, water, food or litter boxes. In other words: Please, please don’t bring your cat — or your dog, or ferret, or parrot. Cosplay is much more fun, not to mention more humane.