Meowing Into the Void at CatVideoFest

Upon entering CatVideoFest, the opening line to its press email made some sense: “The cats are back by popular demand.” 

To be upfront, I’m a certified dog person who was a virgin to this event and Youtubing with others in general. So, seeing three quarters of the Berklee Performance Center auditorium filled with old people, young people, people in groups, people not in groups, people looking like students, people dressed like young professionals, and everyone giddy to watch internet cat videos was…a surprise. I took a seat as the lights dimmed and meows seeped from the audience to greet the opening speakers.

“I’ll make this quick because I know not to stand too long between people and their cat videos,” said Will Braden, the host, director and curator of this CatVideoFest, among others. He’s also the mind behind Henri Le Chat Noir, which has been verified by film critic Roger Ebert at the “best internet cat video ever made and won Braden the Golden Kitty Award at CatVideoFest 2012. After showing a brief clip of Christopher Walken asking an ABC News anchor if he “has a computer” so he can watch the Henri videos, Braden concluded his charming, concise introduction with a statement of purpose: “Let’s be honest, we all watch cat videos, but this is about watching cat videos together.”

And then the 75 minutes of back-to-back cat content began (in four parts).

Part I: Drama.

I would’ve labelled this “drama-dy,” but what do I know? I’m just a cynic in a turtleneck spending my Sunday night this way. These cat vids were centered around suspense and pure kitty quirk: cats being spooked by dogs, cats overly enjoying piano, cats being tricked (in all tones of meows), cats interacting with mugs of coffee like “wut r this?” and of course this “petty ass cat” I first experienced watching Desus and Mero one time:

That said, these cats distinguished themselves from the “Comedy” chapter of the programming (more later) by way of making us wait for the punchline. There’s a certain kind of silence that sits in a room of over 200 people waiting to watch a cat crash through a ceiling, and it’s intense. 

Part II: Documentary.

This is where things got a bit abstract. These cats varied widely, from longer 6-minute features to 20-second shots of kittens just…being kittens. That said, there were plenty of fun feral facts in here and plenty of vids I wouldn’t have found on my own, such as a sequence of pumas climbing fences, a how-to on homemade cat food (oddly, not gross) and a profile on a feral cat named Mason (He has kidney disease, gets rescued and becomes a ‘member of the family.’ It’s disgustingly heartwarming, and the acoustic guitar shreds). 

That said, I could’ve done without this Aesop Rock music video. I’ve posted it hear to prove how truly unnecessary it is, and I’m sorry:

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Kirby’s a badass high roller of a cat, but it’s just a waste of three minutes for some reason. However, one of my personal favorites followed it: Lil Bub. A time-lapsed video of a carpenter building “Fort Bub” was nothing short of adorable. Then came a slew of clips showing the nuances of these tiny lions: cats sharing, cats not sharing, cats climbing walls, cats denying their humans’ right to use computers and so on. A compilation titled “10 Reasons to Get a Cat” played to these quirks listed and ended with an obvious thesis: “They provide constant entertainment.” This moment of meta made some gray-haired man in front of me chuckle.

Get a cat–or at least help a cat–was certainly the message of the night. CatVideoFest, it’s own social benefit organization, partnered with Boston’s Forgotten Felines for the event. BFF is a local organization that feeds feral cat colonies and also educates on matters of spaying & neutering, adopting and abandoning cats, which is illegal under federal law and punishable in Massachusetts by a fine of up to $5,000.

Part III: Comedy.

Well, it had all been comedy up to this point, but these antics certainly landed hardest. For some reason, this cat on a rotating table killed me for what seemed like 5 minutes after it was over. What followed were cats sitting on weird things, cats tripping babies (dark humor), cats meeting easter eggs, cats sincerely wildin’ and cats in the background of it all who appeared to be thinking, “get it together, man.” There was a cat named Marmalade, and according to an all-caps caption, “HE IS A SURVIVOR, BORN A FIGHTER.” Another caramel floof enjoyed fidget spinners like the rest of us, and this little leopard fell in love with a salt lamp:

Part IV: Classic.

Honestly, a sold final act. I didn’t take many notes because something happens to the brain once it’s travelled a full hour into feline filmography. That “something” let me to forget my notebook. Was it a high? Who knows! But I certainly appreciated this song about owning a normal cat who doesn’t do viral things. “Cute stuff!” my mushy, tired mind thought as I cracked my back and wondered for the first time of the night when this would maybe…end?

And after a truly smart, entertaining Henri video about the superfluous nature of Halloween costumes, it did. The crowd went wild with “whoops” and claps, and I walked out the door (wait for it…) refreshed! Perhaps it was the nostalgically bad video quality, the furry facial expressions, the comedic timing or just the plain timing. After all, these last few weeks have been easy on none of us (am I right, ladies?), and what’s more escapist than a cat video, much less over 60 of them?

I remember midway through one of the ASPCA-style rescue stories taking a moment to sit back and examine the atmosphere of the room. I remember thinking that we’d been sucked into an internet vortex saturated with cats doing the same basic things we do: not listen, not share, snuggle and get sincerely duped. It was calming in the way that watching any movie is. How often do you and hundreds of other strangers sit together and forget yourselves? My answer is not enough.

PS: There was some mascot named Mingus there? Seriously, who is this guy? Let us know, and more importantly attend this event next year for a lovely reset to your stressful life in this stress-inducing world.