“The Cat Park Is The Internet”: An Interview With Scott Stulen, Curator Of The Internet Cat Video Film Festival

Cat videos are the currency of the realm here on the Internet. At their best, they’re funny, cute, and endlessly shareable. But what happens when you take them into the real world? One man, Scott Stulen, wanted to find out and the Internet Cat Video Film Festival was born as a result! We reached out to Scott about the project’s runaway success and this is what he had to say.

From Hop To Pop: Would you please introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your role with the Internet Cat Video Film Festival.

Scott Stulen: My name is Scott Stulen. I am an artist, dj, curator, writer and programmer. I am the Director of mnartists.org, an online art hub serving over 20,000 Midwest artists, and co-curator of Open Field at the Walker Art Center. I am the co-creator of the Internet Cat Video Film Festival (along with Katie Hill) and the sole producer/curator of the program (currently). Basically I do everything with the festival production and tour.

From Hop To Pop: The initial program last year triggered quite the response, both locally in Minneapolis and then nationally and on the Internet. Talk about the decision to take the program on the road.

Scott Stulen: At first I only expected a few dozen people to hang out and watch a few YouTube cat videos. After the press release went out, it went viral in hours and I anticipated a much bigger crowd. Optimistically we were thinking around 4-5 thousand and ended up with over 10,000 people attending and probably would have had more if we would have had a bigger site. The festival became one of the most heavily attended and by far the most media covered event in history of the Walker Art Center.

Source: Walker Art Center

Shortly after the conclusion of the first festival I was flooded with requests to re-stage the festival at other sites (nearly 250 requests to date). Taking advantage of this sustained interest I choose to take it on tour. I have been careful in selecting the tour sites to find communities where the festival can be presented in the proper context and also places where the festival can partner with local cultural non-profits and animal welfare groups to raise money and awareness.

In each community I work with the host venue to shape the presentation and related events. I travel to most of the screenings and give the introduction and place the festival into the context of its origination. To date the festival has been presented in Boston, San Diego, Memphis, South Bend (IN), Oakland, Austin (as part of SXSW), Vienna Austria and now Portland (editor’s note: tonight and tomorrow, June 21st and 22nd at the Hollywood Theater!). Currently, I am working on the second festival of all new videos set to debut in August at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. I have booked the festival at venues in San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu, Grand Rapids, Los Angeles, Toronto, Brooklyn, Little Rock and Derry (Northern Ireland) in 2013-2014. The festival has been presented in a wide range of venues from outdoor festivals to art house theaters. In each venue it has been met with an ethusiatic response by the community. The interest just keeps building.

In the end the success really lies in the social factor of the event. I like to say it’s not about watching cat videos, it’s about watching cat video together. This is why it works, we are creating a moment to share a passion for this content with other people in a “real world” context.

Source: Walker Art Center

From Hop To Pop: I’m curious about the submission process. Where are these videos coming from and what are the curators generally looking for?

Scott Stulen: We have an open submission process where anyone can submit any clip that is currently hosted on YouTube or Vimeo. All of the submitted videos are then screened by a panel of curators, artists, media members and cat lovers to narrow down the nominations. The final cut will be selected, edited, and sequenced by myself. The creators of the videos are then notified to get permissions for the clips.

The Golden Kitty or Best in Show is selected from an online vote of the most nominated videos in the festival. This vote will go online in mid-july and the winner will be revealed at the festival on August 28th.

New this year will be a “lifetime achievement” category which is the “Hall of Fame” of Internet Cat Videos. The panel of jurors is currently selecting a grouping of videos for enshrinement in this year’s festival.

From Hop To Pop: What’s the target audience here? Who’s coming to these events and are we all just crazy-cat obsessives with way too much time on our hands?

Scott Stulen: The audience for the festival is incredibly broad and diverse. It attracts families to retirees, hipsters to suburban moms. There are cat-crazy obsessives, a few furies but also fans of Internet memes and general cultural audiences. The festival has resonated incredibly well internationally and has transcended language and culture. We may have proven that cat videos are the universal language. 🙂

Source: YouTube

From Hop To Pop: Anything else we should know?

Scott Stulen: One of the most asked questions about the festival is: Why cat videos? I think it is multiple factors. First, people love cats and people love the Internet. This dual passion is at the core of the phenomena, and helps sustain it. Second, cats do not perform, usually, but are also easily assigned human traits. While dogs, on the other hand, appear as if they are performing for you and generally eager to please, cats could care less and most often would rather not be bothered. Their aloofness draws you in, which may be why we the videos can be so intriguing. Cats play hard to get. Third, Cats are cute, and rather universal. They live all over the world and have been a part of our human lives for ages. So now that the technology to capture a cat on video is equally ubiquitous… the cuteness is unlimited and readily accessible at our fingertips. And finally there is the social aspect. One goal of the festival was to see what happened with you took an online community offline. Part of this desire is a response to the different social space dogs and cats owners occupy. While dog owners take their pets out for walks, to dog parks and interact with each other public space, cats are primarily confined to their home. There’s no cat park. The cat park is the Internet.

The 2013 Internet Cat Video Film Festival takes place on Wednesday, August 28th at the Minneapolis State Fair. Tickets cost $10 and are available here.

Interested about the festival and future screenings? Follow along on Twitter at @middlewest and @catvidfest.

Author’s note: this interview was originally posted at The Pet Collective.

Contact us: travis [at] bunnyslippers.com