TORONTO, CANADA – Puppies can be sweet and all that, and there’s a proven audience for a sneezing panda or smirking baby sloth, but if any animal has a true “forever home” on the internet, it’s surely the cat. Its pawprints are all over the videos we watch every day and the language we “can haz” use, and we’ve even awwww’ed as Keyboard Cats begat LOLCats and Cat Bread became the greatest thing since the sliced variety.
There’s absolutely no such thing as “population control” on the internet and so the memes keep having kittens, proliferating like a stray in heat. That’s given plenty of material to Just For Cats to work with, a Canada-wide film festival in its third year that’s entirely dedicated to internet cat videos.
Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox hosts the kick-off on April 14 with back-to-back screenings, and throughout the summer, this IRL YouTube playlist of kitty comedy and drama will soon appear in more than a dozen cinemas around the country, including Halifax, Edmonton and Haida Gwaii, B.C. with each centre donating proceeds to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
At the Toronto launch, celebrity cat Lil BUB will be in attendance, no doubt christening the event with her adorably famous spittle and presenting the show with some help from human co-host Magali Simard, Film Programmes Manager and Programmer at TIFF.
“Personally, I can’t wait to see her,” Simard says of Lil BUB. The programmer fought to bring Just for Cats to Toronto in 2012, and counts it as a “total, literal pet project.”
“I think we realized that pop art or entertainment that’s found online is highly celebrated on internet platforms, but never or rarely seen on the big screen,” Simard says of Just for Cats. Maru’s greatest box-jumping hits have been viewed more than 21 million times, for example, “but it’s not something we ever experience together.”
That concept of communal cat viewing was pioneered by the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, who is responsible for launching their Internet Cat Video Festival back in 2012, an event that attracts more than 10,000 locals annually, and which has spawned an international tour. Just For Cats uses a version of their programme, which is curated by the person behind YouTube star Henri Le Chat Noir, Will Braden.
“It’s mostly cats embarrassing themselves, which is always the best,” says Simard — whether they’re falling off a couch or getting stuck in a vase. “For me, they’re the best ones because I think we get the full narrative of a cat’s emotions. We go from 0 to 100 in about a nanosecond,” says Simard of their acting range, a unique talent as far as internet-famous animals go. “My theory around why they’re more popular than dog videos is that.”
And unlike other film festivals — like September’s TIFF, for instance, where Simard co-programs the festival’s Canadian features — Just For Cats isn’t about scoring the latest cat video premieres, though we trust the great cucumber scourge of 2015 will be appropriately represented. It’s more about revisiting the familiar hits, as cozy an experience as curling up with Mittens or Paw-Paw or whatever you’ve happened to name your BFF feline.
On that note, CBC Arts asked Simard to share five of her all-time favorite cat videos, selections which will appear in this year’s show.
“It’s so hard to pick, but I do love this one,” Simard stated. “I think we find cats hilarious because they can act with entitlement — which I am absolutely fine with.”
Do you want some more examples? Simard recommends Henri le Chat’s entire channel on YourTube. “His existential musings, the appropriate use of black and white, the subtitles — all of it shows a love of European cinema and Henri has a profound philosophical bent. Serious.”
Just For Cats Video Festival will be held April 14 7:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto. www.tiff.net
Visit www.justforcats.ca anytime to find information on future festival dates around the country, including Red Deer, Alta. (April 21), Edmonton (June 11-14), Haida Gwaii, B.C. (June 2), Waterloo, Ont. (June 18), Vancouver (June 26) and Winnipeg (July 6).