When the lights went down in the 2016 Dallas cat video festival, organizer Bart Weiss says you could hear the audience calling out throughout the theater: “Meow...meow...meow...”
Every time a cute cat came on screen, the audience oohed and ahhed. They’d look worried if the cat was in trouble. Weiss says it was like being in an action movie, or adventure flick -- every moment garnered reaction, and everyone felt the reaction together. But instead of car chases or sword fights, the screen was filled with cats.
“It’s amazing that these people can come together. This is what film does ... While the CatFest is so different from what we normally do, it is the same basic intent, finding communities of people that love seeing films and giving them an experience and making them feel connected to the world in a really wonderful way.”
The community was that of the Dallas VideoFest CatFest, a one-night short film festival of the area’s best cat videos. Going on its second year, Dallas' CatFest is a gathering place for cat people and a fundraiser for the local no-kill animal shelter, Operation Kindness.
VideoFest is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, but CatFest is only in its second year. VideoFest originally partnered with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which kicked off its first Internet Cat Video Festival in 2012. The contemporary art museum’s event, where locals were invited to watch cat videos outside the museum, attracted 10,000 people its first year, many in cat ears, whiskers and T-shirts. Several brought along their own cats, according to Minnesota’s Star Tribune. Since then, the annual festival succeeded at its goal of bringing an internet meme into reality.
At first, the Video Association of Dallas worked with the Walker to create the inaugural local cat video film festival, sharing the museum’s video reel with fans at the Texas Theatre. When the Walker announced it was stepping away from the festival to pursue new projects, the 2017 Dallas festival moved forward on its own.
This year, Weiss says the cat videos come from all genres. There’s the homemade observational variety: Housecats do the "if it fits, I sits" thing and act, generally, ridiculous. And there are also artsier videos with puppets, animations and drama. There will be musical videos, such as cats playing piano, and vintage ones, like Thomas Edison’s 1894 clip of puppeteered cats boxing. The common factors are the cats and the expectedly enraptured audience.
One of the festival’s sponsors, Jessica Spawn, recently dove headfirst into the cat fandom world. She created the film Instagram Cat Mom, and she says the festival is a meeting ground for cat-lovers of all breeds.
“[It’s] a bunch of happy people who love cats who are all best friends that don’t know each other yet ... You go and, if you love cats, you find your people and it’s a blast.”
To Weiss, there’s something special that draws cat people together, and that makes cats so fun to watch.
“Cats are elusive, aloof, distant, but also incredibly cute. They move in ways that are both poetic, acrobatic, and sometimes, just plain goofy. They have a constant curiosity. They find a way to get themselves in and out of trouble. A dog will look at something and just bark at it, and a cat will look at it and get it to work,” Weiss says.
Weiss, a proud cat dad himself, said he was excited to spend the evening with fellow cat-lovers, and show off some of his favorite video stars.
“I get to do the intro to the thing, so I get to shoot my cats. And everybody gets to see how great my cats are,” Weiss says.
Plan your life
The Dallas VideoFest CatFest will be August 24. Doors open at 6 p.m. at Texas Theatre, 231 W Jefferson Blvd., Dallas. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased on the festival’s website. A portion of the profits will be donated to Operation Kindness, a no-kill animal shelter in Carrollton.