Internet Cat Videos Go Public 

The first-ever Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival celebrates our weird obsession with quirky felines.

Of all the cultural artifacts that allow a glimpse into things hidden deep in the reaches of our human wiring, nothing quite compares to the distinctly 21st-century phenomenon of Internet cat videos. We watch them huddled under blankets, laptops propped up on legs, with friends or in the solitary comfort of bedrooms, bingeing on a seemingly endless supply of videos of cats playing pianos, falling off television sets, acting out dramatic scenes. Cats, thanks to the Internet, have gone viral — and will probably stay that way.

But when Scott Stullen, project director for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, decided to put out a call for cat videos for a summer arts series wrap-up, he wasn't quite expecting what came next: He received more than 10,000 submissions from across the world, all in a matter of days. Stullen decided to compile the best submissions into a seventy-minute film, called #catvidfest. After its debut, more than 160 other cities applied to screen the film, but only a few were selected — among them, Oakland. And just like that the first-ever Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival was born.

"We liked it because it blurs the lines between high art and popular culture," said Isabella Shields, executive director of The Great Wall of Oakland, which has been projecting short films and videos (as well as hosting daredevil dance performances) on a one-hundred-by-one-hundred-foot wall on West Grand Avenue between Broadway and Valley Street during first-Friday Art Murmurs since 2006. Shields will be showing the film on The Great Wall and hosting the accompanying festival on Saturday, May 11.

In addition to Stullen's film, the fest offers many cat-centric events for feline enthusiasts and owners. There will be a stage featuring a full day of entertainment, including music from James & Evander's Adam Myatt (aka "The Cat Man of West Oakland") and a drag reenactment of a scene from CATS. Participating galleries, including Rock Paper Scissors Collective and Pro Arts, will be leading cat-related craft activities for kids, and the East Bay SPCA will be on hand with cats and kittens for adoption. As an added bonus, cat owners are encouraged to bring their feline friends.

Part of the magic, said Shields, will come from everyone gathering together to celebrate a cross-species relationship that's mostly experienced behind closed doors, or on glowing screens. "It'll be interesting to see 5,000 people sitting on West Grand watching the film together," she mused. "The cats are going to be ten feet tall. I'm hoping to get a little insight about what exactly it is about these cats to begin with." 3-10 p.m., $10 (all proceeds benefit the East Bay SPCA).

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