Community, Features

Coolidge Cat Video Fest delights audiences with viral Internet sensations

Reminisce on a time where you were sucked into a YouTube “black hole,” mindlessly watching video after video, time passing by in the blink of an eye. In that journey, you have almost definitely run into viral cat videos.

The 2020 Cat Video Fest, a compilation of cat videos, was screened at Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline Sunday to raise money for local cat shelters and charities. COURTESY OF CAT VIDEO FEST

Those cute and funny videos have been brought to the big screen in a sold-out second annual Cat Video Fest at Coolidge Corner Theatre on Sunday afternoon. The 72-minute showing consisted of about 125 different cat videos from over 20 different countries. The categories of cat videos ranged from drama and comedy to action and adventure.

Will Braden, the director of Cat Video Fest, said his fascination with cat videos started with one cat: Henri. Braden said he uploaded his first video of Henri in 2007, featuring a black cat with French narration accompanying the animal’s “existential” and dramatic actions.

Because of his early introduction to Internet cats, Braden said he was inspired to start working on the “Internet Cat Video Festival” in 2012, which turned into “Cat Video Fest” in 2016, and has since grown from a few showings in Minneapolis to an arena of 200 theaters.

“I just thought maybe a few hundred people will show up and it’ll be fun, and then 11,000 people showed up and it was gigantic,” Braden said of the festival’s first rendition. “And then it just kind of took on its own sort of life from there.”

Theaters that screened “Cat Video Fest” donate some proceeds to local animal shelters and charities. For this showing, 10 percent of all ticket sales went to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell, according to Mark Anastasio, the program manager and director of special programming at Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Though not fond of the critters himself, Anastasio wrote in an email that offering donations to cats in need is a unique opportunity.

“I was probably most intrigued by the fact that a portion of the proceeds could be donated to an animal charity,” Anastasio wrote. “I’m not a cat person myself, but I know that most of the world seems to be!”

Throughout the film, animal shelters and cat rescue stories were shown, drawing a sympathetic reaction from the audience. One of the shelters featured, Seattle Humane, shared a story of a cat named Potato, who was featured in a viral video that landed him a spot on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and a permanent home with an adopted family.

Braden said donating to local charities helps Cat Video Fest feel like a community-based effort.

“Sheltering cats and abandoned cats is a huge issue,” Braden said. “It’s really important that every time we have a show in the local community, the beneficiary is always a local shelter. So that it’s not just a nationwide thing, it’s part of this community.”

At the showing, the audience was full of excited chatter before the show, some sharing photos of their cats with friends and discussing their predictions about this year’s reel. Before the screening, the trailer for the 2019 film “Cats,” appeared, which highlighted an unusual timeliness to the festival and the theater.

On average, Braden said he watches over 10,000 cat video submissions per year in preparation, giving him the chance to include cat clips from all over the world in each year’s reel.

“I pursue videos that are cross-cultural that are from different countries because I think cats are universal — there’s cats everywhere,” Braden said. “I want there to be videos from all over the place.”

As the film played, the sounds of laughter and “aw” rang throughout the theater. Some notable moments included Braden’s “Henri 2: Paw de Deux” and a tribute to Lil Bub, an internet famous cat who passed away last December.

Rosemary Noren, 73, of Cambridge attended the event at the suggestion of a friend and said she plans on coming again to experience the same intrigue of Internet cats next year.

“It’s very clever at a lot of different levels,” Noren said after the event. “It’s an annual, so I’ll be back.”

While he enjoys seeing the final reel on the big screen, Braden said it is the audience’s reaction he looks forward to the most.

“I really also love to see the reel play in the theater,” Braden said. “It’s fun to be a good distraction for people and do some good at the same time.”

Coolidge audiences will get a chance to view an encore performance of “Cat Video Fest” on March 4.

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