by Aaron Mendelson
Thousands of cat lovers attended Oakland’s first-ever Internet Cat Video Festival on Saturday, crowding into four blocked-off streets in the Uptown area. The all-day event celebrated everything feline, with cat adoptions, cat art, a cat photo booth, aerial acrobatics and live music. Organizers said more than 6,000 people attended.
The main event was a 70-minute loop of cat videos, projected onto the Great Wall of Oakland. As the sun set, the audience gazed up at the exploits of confused, crazed and cute cats, laughing along with the videos. The clips were blown up to fill the Great Wall’s 100-by-100-foot surface.
The cat videos were curated by Scott Stulen of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. A Walker cat video event last August drew nearly 11,000 fans. Stulen is taking the festival on the road; he said the Oakland event was the second-largest he’s seen.
Stulen emphasized the “social aspect” of the festival. “How this whole festival came about was: What would happen when you basically took the Internet offline?” he said. “And instead of watching these videos alone on your phone or your computer, what if we had thousands of people together to watch them?”
Rhonda Lenore and her 9-month-old sphinx cat, Journey, made the trip from San Francisco for the festival. It was the first trip out of the house for Journey, who was wearing a tiger-striped sweater. “I’ve had tons of people stop and just chat with me,” she said. “It’s nice to see all these other cat people here.”
The event was a benefit for the East Bay SPCA, a cat rescue organization. Phyllis Meyer was volunteering with the SPCA on Saturday and said the organization had already adopted three cats by 5 p.m. The SPCA’s kittens were sprawled out in their cages, exhausted from the attention they had received. “We’ve had a big crowd,” Meyer said. “They’re very tired now, they’ve been on display all day. People find the kittens especially quite irresistible.”
Cat T-shirts, cat face paintings and cat costumes far outnumbered actual cats at the festival. Miguel Solari was wearing a “cat onesie” on Saturday. “I’m glad to see there’s other people who share the same enthusiasm about cuteness of cats,” he said. Solari’s favorite cat video, he said, is a video he shot himself of an ex-girlfriend’s dazed cat, Spaghetti. He fed the cat Transcendental Moonbeam Catnip, and filmed the results. “It just sparked; within a few months it had like 10,000 hits and it just kept growing.”
The Great Wall’s Jessica Worchel said that cat videos bring people together. “There’s partisan politics and so much fragmentation in our country right now. But cat videos seem to be something we can all support and get behind,” she said.
Scott Stulen put it differently, speaking to the thousands of cat lovers gathered in front of the Great Wall. “This isn’t just about watching Internet cat videos,” Stulen said. “It’s about watching Internet cat videos together.”
Organizers hope to make Oakland’s Online Cat Video Festival an annual celebration.