Picture this: You’ve just finished a long task at work, and your brain needs some downtime. You click over to Twitter, where you see the Cat Cake Meme. Or you go to YouTube to watch a compilation of #catfails. Or you check the Reddit sub r/CatsBeingJerks. You have a good laugh, maybe coo at a kitten’s cuteness, and after a few minutes, you feel refreshed enough to return to your daily grind.
Cats have been called the “unofficial mascot of the internet,” and it’s easy to see why. In a time where punditry and “influencers” have taken over social media, cats provide the perfect foil to those who lean too hard into self-seriousness. We love schadenfreude, but it feels a lot more innocent to laugh at a cat making a fool of itself than a fellow hooman.
That’s the idea behind Cat Video Fest, an annual compilation of videos of cats doin’ cat things, screening this Sunday at 14 Pews. Proceeds from the screening will benefit Friends for Life, a no-kill animal adoption and rescue organization in Houston.
The first iteration of Cat Video Fest was a video festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, in 2012. Will Braden submitted a video he’d made of a discontented cat named Henri, shot in the style of a black and white French New Wave film. He ended up winning that year’s Golden Kitty. The next year, the festival asked him if he wanted to curate the reel.
In 2015, the Walker Art Center discontinued the festival, and Braden took it over, transforming it into a traveling festival. This year, more than 150 cities are on the lineup, including two dates in El Paso.
“This year is a big expansion year for us,” he says. “If we can sell people on a cat film festival in El Paso, twice!”
The project is a labor of love for Braden, who does all the editing, sound mixing, and everything else for each year’s film. He also sorts through more than 16,000 submissions each year. He knows that this makes him sound like a control freak, but it adds to the curated feel of each film, he says. “I would miss out on a lot of videos that in a certain context would be funny.”
There are 112 videos in this year’s film. The videos come from Cat Video Fest’s online submission form, plus videos that Braden finds online. “If it has a cat in it, it’s fair game,” he says. He tries not to rely on memes or viral videos though, since each year’s film spends several months touring the U.S. Instead, he often finds hidden gems on foreign YouTube accounts.
Plus, he says, “I want it to feel a little bit outside of the internet.”
This is the real genius of Cat Video Fest—it’s a communal experience that allows people to take a break from the bustle and vitriol of the internet, and to enjoy something fun and funny, in person, without irony.
“I cannot tell you how many people have come up to me after screenings and said, ‘I needed that. I just needed to laugh for 75 minutes, and not be inundated with other stuff.’”
“We love cats,” he says, “And we love watching them make fools of themselves. There’s a universal appeal to that that is very satisfying.”
March 10. Tickets from $10 (proceeds benefit Friends for Life no-kill animal shelter). Screenings at 14 Pews (800 Aurora St.) and Alamo Drafthouse LaCenterra (2707 Commercial Center Blvd. Suite K-100, Katy). More info and tickets at drafthouse.com/houston and 14 pews.org.