First cats took over the Internet. Now they're getting a Walker showcase.
I'll just come out and say it: I love cat videos.
To the point of embarrassment. They are, without a doubt, the Internet's grand abyss of a time waster. And I don't care one bit.
Imagine my delight when Walker Art Center announced the world's first Internet Cat Video Film Festival, which will take place Thursday on the museum's lawn. That's right: The Walker is going to project YouTube cat videos onto a giant screen and people will gather and watch.
The festival was created on a lark, a funny project perfect for the Walker's experimental outdoor program, Open Field. In early July, the museum asked the public to nominate its favorite YouTube clips. (Keyboard Cat! The OMG Cat! Nyan Cat!)
Media went bonkers for the fest, setting off a viral explosion of stories from the BBC, L.A. Times, the Guardian, Time, Mashable, Wired and a cavalcade of other sites.
Gawker aimed its usual snark at eager fest-goers: "You will be actively precipitating the downfall of modern society."
The Huffington Post, however, was powerless against the cuteness, saying, "Minneapolis might just be home to the greatest film festival ever."
The online flurry triggered a tsunami of nominations -- 10,000 by late July. Only about 50 videos will be shown.
The Walker has taken advantage of this fervor by selling T-shirts. And the winner of the fest's People's Choice Award will be featured on the Sept. 8 episode of Animal Planet's "My Cat From Hell."
The Walker hasn't gotten this much press since it asked bad-boy provocateur John Waters to rearrange the permanent collection last year.
Cats, it seems, are provocateurs of another nature. For some, their exploits have made them legends on the Internet. A cat named Burger is the star of a video called "Very Angry Cat," which has been watched 78 million times on YouTube. A clip featuring two talkative cats (called "Two Talking Cats") has 50 million views. Nora the piano-playing cat only has 26 million clicks, but she also has a DVD on Amazon.
The geniuses behind the popular cat meme website, "I Can Has Cheezburger," love the idea behind the fest.
"I feel like it legitimizes cat videos," said Emily Huh, the site's editor-in-chief.
The Walker's 'cat lady'
Call me crazy, but I could wish for nothing more in life than to see a video of my cat, Kima, go viral. So far, the best I've mustered is 67 views for a clip that shows her doing a back flip.
The creator of the Walker's fest tells me view count doesn't make one cat video better than another. But that's what I would expect from Katie Hill, the eternally bubbly 28-year-old who dreamed up this cat fantasia.
"Some of my favorite videos only have six views on YouTube," she said. "And some of those are so much better than the famous ones -- well, not better, but just as wonderful!"
Hill is the Walker's self-described "cat-lady-in-residence" (official title: Open Field program associate). I imagined someone with dozens of cats running amok in her house. She has only two, Ron and Max.
When I last spoke with Hill, she sounded exhausted. As of late, her life consists of reviewing cat videos and talking with reporters. She's been on Australian radio and appeared on Canadian and British TV. The other day, an L.A. film festival flew her to California to lead a discussion on cat videos.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I'd be doing these sorts of things," she said, "and talking about cat videos no less!"
The art of cat videos
The Walker is one of the most acclaimed modern-art institutions in the country. Makes me wonder: Should cat videos be considered art?
The festival definitely raises some philosophical questions. The viewing of cat videos is typically a solitary experience -- we watch them at home or in our cubicles (and quickly shut our laptops when the boss walks by).
"The whole point of the festival is to see if this community exists in real life," Hill said.
While cat videos are some of the most viewed clips on YouTube, they also attract jeers from certain people.
"The fest is something that has the potential to be made a mockery of," Hill said. "Because at the end of the day, we are talking about cat videos."
"I will confess that I am a dog person," said Walker director Olga Viso. Still, Viso commended the "creative agency" on display in these videos.
"Sometimes it is the most modest of projects that resonates and taps into the broader cultural psyche," she said.
While the Walker isn't expecting Rock the Garden attendance numbers, the screening will be situated much like the popular annual concert, with seating on the grassy hill. There will be about an hour of cat videos, divided among categories like comedy, documentary and foreign. The Best of Show video will be selected via live Twitter voting.
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