Cat Fans Lap up Feline Film Festival

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

Move over Cannes, this is Cat.

In St. Louis, Missouri, curious cat-lovers are filling the Contemporary Art Museum to capacity to watch such gems as "Oskar the Blind Kitten Versus Hair Dryer - Epic Cat Battle."

Over 300 attendees have forked out between $10 to $20 USD to experience this 73-minute show.

While it's not exactly "art", the head of the museum says they do reflect current culture and help form a community spirit.

"We're amazed at the interest that it garnered, the number of people that it brought, the diversity of that audience and felt that it would be an ideal thing for us to show here at the museum," says Lisa Melandri.

"So, we're really thrilled to be one iteration of this now iconic film festival."

But not all videos on show here are just snippets from mobile phone videos of a cute cat or even feline foibles caught on tape.

Some feature a great deal of thought and detailed production work.

Take the "Henri, le Chat Noir" series.

A perennial favorite, the black-and-white French film sendups have drawn rave reviews.

They've also gained millions of page views for the filmmaker, who describes Henri as "the world's first and foremost feline philosopher."

Like many of the top cat videos, Henri has drawn sponsorship from a cat food maker, created a series of cat videos and even spawned a book.

Cat videos can land the cat and owner movie roles, earn advertising revenue from YouTube and become big business.

Digital media expert Perry Drake of the University of Missouri - St. Louis says cats are well-suited as subjects for viral videos.

He says there are three vital ingredients for viral videos - parody, cute and some kind of surprise.

A cat doing aerobics, wielding a light saber or starring in a spoof of a foreign film all being prime examples.

"I kind of think it is a little bit of a perfect formula because of a couple of things," he says.

"First of all, females are more likely to own a cat than males, more females are on social media than males are on social media. You have the whole video explosion kind of taking on, you have that whole personification of cats. I think it's just a perfect mix for this kind of environment."

The film festival also held a local contest for the best video.

Cricket and her owner, Chris Ward, were the victors.

Like some actors without tails or fur, Cricket can sometimes be a bit demanding.

She earns treats for performing. And, she's not afraid to turn down a role. She also can be a bit forceful when she feels her needs aren't being met.

Ward says he makes videos with her to amuse people.

He'd be thrilled if one went viral and launched Cricket's career. But, mainly, he wants to make people laugh. And, he thinks cats are purrfect for that.

"They're funny, they're cute," he says.

"I think people like to anthropomorphise - is that the right word - animals. So, I don't know, I get that there's a whole Internet cat culture thing. I just like to make dumb videos and these guys happen to live with me. So, they're unwitting participants in my silly stuff."

His short film - "Cricket Rings a Bell for Treats" - debuted on the big-screen at the festival. Ward was thrilled it was picked, Cricket was as ever unmoved.

But it's not just films visitors are getting their claws into, guests are also getting to preen with face paint and make their own cat ears before show time.

But what draws them here? For attendee Kate Simmons, the answer is simple.

"Because cats are awesome. That's really the thing," she says.

"We saw it advertised somewhere. I immediately bought tickets. I didn't know what VIP was for, but I ahead and bought it because, I mean, you can't go wrong. And, yeah, so it's going to be awesome. Cat videos."

This traveling festival also often serves as a fund-raiser and outreach for animal welfare groups.

Participants here include Best Friends Animal Society, Stray Rescue of St. Louis and Tenth Life Cat Rescue, which brought cats in need of adoption.

Many festival-goers are wearing their love of cats on their sleeves - some literally.

Attendee Fawn Duve is wearing a pink bathrobe, pinned with cat-style stuffed animals. She's also donned curlers and shoes decorated with cats.

She came to hang out with like-minded people.

"Oh my gosh, to be with all the other crazy cat people. To watch all the fun videos and, yeah, just to hang out with cat people," she says.

"I wear my crazy cat lady badge proudly."

While there's a large amount of female guests in attendance, there's also some men here, willing to show their stripes.

Trey Adams and his friend Ricky Hasan are both wearing ears, face paint and shirts decorated with their favorite feline friends.

"Because I love cats, that's pretty much it. Just anything with cats, that's just… that's where I'm at," says Adams.

Other audience members say it was a purr-fect night, allowing them to bond with like-minded people.

"I liked it, you know. I think I could have probably stopped and talked to anybody here and been friends with them," says attendee, David Beisel.

If cat lovers and organizers have their way, a new CAT-egory of movies could soon gain widespread acclaim.

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