In 2012, researchers at Google's secretive X lab built an artificial neural network of 16,000 computer processors as part of a study intended to find out whether the system could be trained to detect and identify images without outside prompting. Using a database of 10 million thumbnails from YouTube videos, computer scientists sat back to let the network teach itself what visual information was most important.
One of the first things the network learned to do was search for pictures of cats.
If nothing else, the study proved that in order to understand the internet, you have to know cats. Not even massive computer brains are immune to the charms of a good cat video.
At least part of the appeal of cat videos lies in the fact that, possibly more than any other creature on the planet, cats are wholly themselves. They'll behave however they damn well please, regardless of whether there's a camera on them or not. There's probably a lesson to be learned there: we should all aspire to such liberated unselfconsciousness.
The early-2000s heyday of Lolcats may be past us, but silly cat videos continue to be a foundational part of popular internet culture. With everything wrong in the world today, cat videos are one of the few things we have left to consistently bring us joy. And since we're all sharing them anyway, why not make a point of enjoying them with a crowd of like-minded cat enthusiasts?
Enter the Cat Video Festival, a 70-minute screening event that collects the best and most entertaining cat videos for your viewing pleasure, while raising awareness for cats in need around the world. The festival began as an event at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (coincidentally also in 2012), but quickly grew much larger.
Thanks to its soaring popularity, Cat Video Fest now screens at theaters across the country. Each venue has the chance to team up with local feline charities and animal shelters, and a percentage of the proceeds are donated to each organization. Filled to the brim with non-stop cat antics and feline escapades, Cat Video Fest will be screening locally at the Little Theatre Saturday, March 9 (SOLD OUT), with a second showing Sunday, March 10. For the event, The Little will be partnering with Lollypop Farm, the Humane Society of Greater Rochester.
And whose job is it to comb the internet and hunt down these videos? That would be festival curator Will Braden, who's tasked with putting together the purr-fect collection of videos to entertain audiences across the nation. Braden says submitted videos make up about 25 percent of the program, but it varies by year.
"It's important to me to really scour the corners of the internet to make sure that no matter how much of a cat video devotee you are, you will definitely have some surprises," he says.
Braden landed this sweet gig after his short film "Henri 2, Paw de Deux" was awarded the Golden Kitty award at the first Internet Cat Video Festival in 2012. "After that, I just sunk my claws in, and eventually began curating the festival reel myself in 2014."
Does he have any advice for those hoping to create a video good enough to make it into future installments of the festival? "Make sure that your cat is into it. When people have an idea and try to shoehorn their cat into it, people can tell it's not natural," says Braden. "Just try to let your cat be the genesis of the concept. If there is something funny they do, or some bit of weird behavior, use it! Just make sure your cat is on board. Also, it helps if the biggest moment (funniest, most interesting, etc.) is right at the end of the video."