Internet Cat Video Film Festival purrs into Minnesota

Cat-meme lovers unite for a meowing—or wowing—first-ever event

Katie Glovatsky lives the glamorous life of a breakout reality-show star. She and her fellow cast members Zoey, Hakeem, and Callie spend most nights traveling by limo, swilling martinis, dancing on tables, and dodging the paparazzi. She knows the bouncers at the hottest clubs, including the Glitter Box, and she always receives VIP bottle service, though she secretly would rather drink milk than Moet.

Her days are spent getting her beauty rest, soaking in the sun, and grooming her jet-black hair — truly her crowning glory. Every so often, she'll go for a run or chase a ball around, but mostly she tries to save her energy for the nightlife.

What most of her fans don't know, however, is that Katie Glovatsky is painfully shy. In fact, when people come over, she scurries under the sofa.

Rich Juzwiak's Winston Bananas
courtesy of Rich Juzwiak
Rich Juzwiak's Winston Bananas
Jack Shepherd, animals editor at Buzzfeed and "cat partisan"
courtesy of Jack Shepherd
Jack Shepherd, animals editor at Buzzfeed and "cat partisan"

"Katie is not a very social cat," says Debbie Glovatsky, a Minneapolis-based blogger who created a series of stop-motion YouTube videos called "The Real Housecats of the Blogosphere."

In 2009, Glovatsky was curious about social media, though she had very little experience with it. She wanted to start a blog, but wasn't quite sure how to begin until her husband said, "Why don't you have Katie introduce you?"

Glovatsky began writing in what she imagined was Katie's voice — sarcastic and sassy. She quickly discovered that the internet was teeming with people similarly inspired by their own cats. Soon, Glovatsky began creating videos using photos of Katie accompanied by an entourage of her online friends' cats. Before long, Glovatsky was attending cat-blogger conventions.

Glovatsky is self-aware enough to realize that this all might make her sound a little odd.

"I had no idea when I started to write in the voice of my cat that there were others."

On the other side of Minneapolis, another Katie — this one human — looks exhausted. Katie Czarniecki Hill has been up all night, not partying at the Glitter Box, but organizing the world's first cat-video film festival.

Ever since Hill, a self-described "cat lady" and cat-video aficionado, began working at the Walker Art Center as a fellow nearly two years ago, she'd been hinting to her colleagues of her secret wish to create the Cannes of cat videos. Hill was, however, aware of the stigma attached to cat lovers (the "crazy cat lady" stereotype), so she was cautious at first. Still, she felt it was important for cat-video lovers to shed their stigma and LOL in public for at least one night.

The longer she worked at the Walker, the bolder Hill's hints became until she finally got the attention of the team in charge of Open Field. Open Field is, physically, a sprawling lawn next to the Walker, but conceptually, it's much, much more. The Walker regards it as a "community commons," according to Scott Stulen, director of the program at the Walker and an organizer for the Open Field program.

"It's meant to foster collaboration, openness, and a spirit of making things together," Stulen says. "Most of the activities aren't prescribed; they're what the public brings to us."

Depending on the time and day, the field is used for informal drawing classes, making giant cat's cradles with yards upon yards of yarn, live-action role playing games, small concerts — it was even once used for a class that taught children how to hotwire cars. A tool shed housing musical instruments, art supplies, and building materials sits next to the field and remains unlocked during the day to encourage spontaneous creation.

"The element of play is really important," Stulen explains.

When Hill first conceived of the cat-video festival, the Open Field team approached it in their usual relaxed way. First they would put out a call for submissions on the Open Field blog. Then they'd choose some of the best videos. The plan was for Hill to sit out on the lawn and project the videos onto a screen from her laptop. A hundred or so people might show up with food and blankets.

But then word of the cat-video festival exploded all over the internet, and suddenly the Walker's press office was getting calls from across the world. The international media wanted to know if they'd need credentials to attend. The entertainment media wanted to know if there would be a red carpet. Celebrities offered to host.

At the end of that first week in mid-July, there were already 1.2 million news articles written about the first-ever Internet Cat Video Film Festival. As for the videos themselves, there were already more than 5,000 submissions (more than 10,000 would pour in by the official deadline only a couple of weeks later).

"I never thought I would be talking to a radio station in Ireland this morning," Hill marvels.

Despite their shock and exhaustion, Hill and Stulen are ecstatic. There's something very meta about a cat-video film festival going viral, and art people love meta.

"In the era of social media and the internet, what does curation mean?" Stulen asks. "Who is an artist and who is a spectator? Also, the idea of the commons: YouTube is the commons — it's kind of like Open Field on steroids."

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