As 13,000 cat-video aficionados laid down blankets and found seats at St. Paul’s CHS Field for the Internet Cat Video Festival, host Barb Abney spun “Pussy” by Lords of Acid.
I want to see your pussy, show it to me. Let me see your pussy, show it to me.
Of course there was a cat-themed soundtrack to the Walker Art Center’s latest edition of their feline film festival. The sexually unambiguous track went mostly unnoticed, though, as the fourth annual event offered much more than cat videos.
Compared to the previous three iterations, this year’s was gathering was luxurious. Instead of cramming onto overlapping blankets on the hill behind the Walker or wading through the Minnesota State Fair crowds to get to the Grandstand, attendees meandered through the stadium and onto the field with enough space for unlimited photo ops.
No famous cats made appearances this year, but in their stead were a giant turquoise puppet cat from In the Heart of the Beast, a make-your-own cat mask booth, a Grumpy Cat meme cutout, a cardboard Maru box, Garfield, a Kitty Disco mural, and the countless costumed fans to take overt or covert selfies with.
By 8 p.m. the festival staff confirmed that the event was sold out at 13,000 tickets, a record for the venue (and a thousand more people than the CHS Field website states it can accommodate). This led to the inevitable long lines for food and beer, but the cat fest crowd was at ease. It was better than the purgatory of the food truck lines at last year’s event at the Walker.
The screening kicked off with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman throwing a ball of yarn (for real) and curator Will Braden of Henri, le Chat Noir making a speech. But it was a cat that captured everyone’s attention.
After the stadium lights went dark, a slide appeared on the big screen with a photo of the Golden Kitty award next to Cecil the lion. It read, “This is a trophy. This is not.” Thunderous applause ensued. The reel was dedicated to Cecil — may he rest in peace — a beloved animal killed this summer in Zimbabwe on a Bloomington dentist’s hunting trip.
Once the cat videos began, it felt more like a night at summer camp than a film screening. People of all ages curled up on picnic blankets on the baseball field. Kids in handmade cat masks shrieked during a cat/fish stare down. Beer dabblers sauntered around the edge, stopping to head bang with “Heavy Metal Cats,” then moving on.
No one shushed or complained about the view because these were videos most people had seen before on their own computers. Catvidfest is not about watching cat videos, it’s about experiencing them together.
Unfortunately, the night wasn’t without cat-roversy. The reel concluded as it always does with the awarding of the Golden Kitty, a People’s Choice Award determined by online voting. This year’s winner was “Cat Behavior Finally Explained,” a touching promotion of adoption featuring a pair of fake cat paws and a negligible amount of real cat footage.
If you think that’s an odd thing to pull your fur out over, check out the Walker’s Golden Kitty voting page. You get lots of negative comments, like this gem from Sophy Burnham: “FAKE Paws. NO NO. Nothing fake should be allowed.”
Those upset by the voting need only to read Maria Bustillos’s “Hope Is the Thing with Fur,” her contribution to the Coffee House Press cat video essay collection, Cat Is Art Spelled Wrong. She writes: “Cat videos are the crystallization of all that human beings love about cats, the crux of which is centered in the fact that cats are both beautiful and absurd.”
So accept the absurdity and the beauty, even when it means fake felines, and go make your own cat video. Maybe next year your cat compadre will be cheered on by 13,000 people — or more.
Critic's bias: I really only love two cats: My girlfriend’s family cats Butterball and Moxie. Neither of them were featured tonight, and while I take full responsibility for not posting the videos I have of them, it made me care less.
Random notebook dump: Once I heard In the Heart of the Beast was going to be at the festival, I wondered if they would show up with a giant ghost puppet of Cecil the Lion who would prowl around the stadium.
The crowd: Grab a lot of people from Rock the Garden, a handful from A Prairie Home Companion, a couple sections from a One Direction concert, and you’ve got it. Cat ears were definitely the most popular accessory, from kids to grandparents.
Overheard in the crowd: “She didn’t smell like cat pee, so it’s not legit.”