The Internet’s greatest cats will be leaping from the desktop to the big screen this summer at the third annual Internet Cat Video Festival, making its return to Minneapolis August 14 at Open Field. Produced by the Walker Art Center, the event is a competition for connoisseurs of the genre, which culminates in the awarding of the prestigious Golden Kitty prize.
But what elevates a mere meme to the level of feline film? To break down the anatomy of a masterpiece (meow-sterpiece?), we asked this year’s festival programmer, William Braden—winner of the top prize in 2012 for his melodrama Henri, le Chat Noir—to tell us what makes this year’s nominees stand out.
1. An Engineer’s Guide to Cats, 2.0
For their second appearance in the festival, engineers Paul Klusman and TJ Wingard treat their cats—“the most destructive forces of productivity the world has ever seen”—as subjects worthy of scientific inquiry. The edited version linked here offers “a very good example of a video that is all about cats and features cats prominently, but has a unique perspective because of Paul and TJ’s background and occupation as engineers,” Braden says. “The cats are great, but the perspective through which they’re showcased is truly unique, and that is always a sign of a great cat video.”
If a classic is a work that withstands the test of time, then this vignette might be the Jane Eyre of cat videos. It is an example of a vintage cat video, "in its purest sense," Braden says. "Someone saw the cat doing something funny, pointed the camera at it and caught some video gold. This cat had clearly done this before, or at least the person had suspected it of doing it before, and catching the cat in the act is a great payoff. The look the cat gives the camera as it slowly closes the drawer is another great aspect. We love to anthropomorphize our cats, and when they’re caught in the act of doing something and give a look like that, we can’t help but imagine that it’s an expression of true guilt.”
3. 8 Signs of Addiction
This video demonstrates several principles of successful YouTube filmmaking. “The first is pacing and timing,” Braden says. “I see a lot of videos that have a funny premise, but they just go on way too long, or they are disjointed in their pacing. You want to make sure that you show only what is needed to tell the story in your video, and cut out all the fat around it. The second is clarity. The title cards add to the humor, but more importantly they help to clearly set up the jokes and explain what’s going on. If the point of your video isn’t clear, it doesn’t matter how many ways to come at it. Clarity and concision above all else!”
4. Milo Wanted Attention
“One of the more difficult and subjective aspects of great cat videos is just the capturing of cats being cats,” Braden says. “People love to see examples of cats doing things that their cats do—being mischievous, or exhibiting all of those behaviors that are the reasons we love our cats.” But it also helps if the cat in question possesses a little bit of that scene-stealing Garbo Effect. Milo here nails the unmistakable expression of “confusion and concern that we’ve all seen our cats make whenever they’re confronted with something new.”
5. Jedi Kittens Strike Back
Here is cat cinema for the 21st century, and this sequel to a Jedi Kittens video that appeared in last year’s festival ups the technological ante even higher. “It’s a perfect example of a big category of cat videos that is growing in popularity: the produced, professional cat video,” Braden says. Its creator, Zach King, is an editor and director by trade, “and it shows in his Jedi Kitten videos. If you have a talent that can translate to video, incorporating cats into it is only going to make it more popular. That may not have been the case a few years ago, but with the popularity of cat videos at its zenith, it’s a great move now. We’re seeing more and more music videos and well-produced narrative content every year.”