Like other businesses shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic, independent movie theaters have taken a huge hit in recent months. But these boutique cultural mainstays appear to have found an unexpected ally: the world’s domesticated felines—or, at least, those stuck at home with their tech-savvy humans.
This week, the team behind Row House Cinema in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, announced a fundraising bid that doubles as some much-needed feline fun during these troubling times. The first-ever Quarantine Cat Film Fest invites felines and their Homo sapien friends to submit shelter-in-place cat videos that will be compiled into a movie set to premiere digitally on June 19. Dozens of independent cinemas around the country have already partnered with Row House to screen the film on various digital platforms. The event will be ticketed, with half of net proceeds going toward keeping participating businesses afloat.
“The internet exists because of cats,” jokes Row House Cinema owner Brian Mendelssohn, who helped spearhead the effort, in an interview with Bryan Alexander of USA Today. (In truth, the invention of the internet had some military motivations; it also involved some tipsy, beer-sipping scientists. Whether or not cats intervened in this mess remains unclear.)
“It’s just fun to watch cats do cool things,” adds Mendelssohn, whose wife cooked up the idea after watching the cooped-up shenanigans of the couple’s cats, Oliver and Isabella.
Figuring that other film-lovers were also stuck at home with their beloved whiskered pals, Mendelssohn was “cat-apulted into this idea to celebrate cats, our moviegoers and our love of cinema all at once, and to help raise revenue for independent movie theaters, who are deeply at risk due to closures,” he says in a statement quoted by City Beat’s Maija Zummo.
Mendelssohn has already started to dig his claws into the hundreds of submissions pouring into his inbox. The finished product, edited and scored by the film fest’s founder, will be a 70-minute showcase of “the most purr-fect, a-meow-zing, and totally fur-tastic cat videos anyone has ever seen,” according to the event’s website. Unfortunately, that high bar means not all bids will make the final cut.
Still, the best of the best will ride out in style: Just like film fests B.C. (before coronavirus), cash prizes will be doled out for footage featuring the cutest, funniest, bravest and most loving cats, as well as for the submission that wins an overall Best of Show award, as judged by a panel of “very opinionated” cat experts. (Presumably, the humans behind the cameras will be the ones who actually collect and use the money; the exact award amounts are still being decided.)
For a video to be up to snuff (and fluff), feline-focused filmmakers should take care to shoot their kitty ensembles horizontally and in high resolution, then save the files in mp4, mov or m4v format. Those who balk at tech-heavy specs can take comfort in the fact that “holding a smartphone sideways and recording in HD” should suffice.
To keep the cat craze to a manageable minimum, Row House has requested that each household submit a maximum of three videos measuring a trim 30 seconds or less. (For what it’s worth, the very first cat video ever posted to YouTube, a dimly lit romp entitled “Pajamas and Nick Drake,” meets the festival’s criteria; the first YouTube kitty clip to go viral—a breathtaking showdown called “Puppy vs. Cat”—does not.) To give Mendelssohn and his expert panel enough time to review the coterie of cat videos, all entries must be sent in via an online form by May 15, reports Claudia Harmata for People.
To promote the Film Fest, Mendelssohn and his family went back to their original muses: Oliver and Isabella, who star in a brief trailer now on YouTube. The clip is just over a minute long, but as USA Today notes, it took three hours and four humans to shoot, as its diva starlets remained apparently deaf to direction the entire time.
“We had one person running camera and three of us herding,” Mendelssohn tells USA Today. “But really, you just wait for them to do cool things.”
Despite their unpredictability, felines have long been the point-eared apples of the cinema industry’s eye. The world’s first known cat film, “Boxing Cats,” is a quirky kitty caper shot by Thomas Edison in 1894, according to Atlas Obscura’s Michael Waters.
It took another century or so for videos of the ferocious little mammals to have another cinematic renaissance. But thanks to endeavors like the Quarantine Cat Film Fest, we’ll all be hard-pressed to forget that, when it comes to the internet, technically, cats went viral first.