By Adam Lubitow
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 if 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 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 unself-consciousness.
The early 2000s heyday of Lolcats may be past us, but silly cat videos continue to be a foundational part of popular internet culture. Grumpy Cat, Lil Bub, OMG Cat — these videos just consistently bring us joy. And because we’re all sharing them anyway, why not make a point of enjoying them with a crowd of like-minded enthusiasts?
Enter the Cat Video Festival, a traveling, 70-minute screening event that collects the most entertaining cat videos, while raising awareness for cats in need. The festival will screen in Baton Rouge at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at the Manship Theatre, co-presented by area nonprofit animal rescue group Cat Haven.
The Cat Video Festival began at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (coincidentally also in 2012), but quickly grew much larger. Today those videos are curated by Will Braden, who’s tasked with putting together the collection. Submitted videos, Braden says, 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," Braden says, "to make sure that no matter how much of a cat video devotee you are, you will definitely have some surprises.”
Braden landed this fantastical 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," Braden says.
The Cat Video Fest has soared in popularity and now screens at theaters across the country. Each venue can team up with local feline charities and animal shelters, with a percentage of the proceeds donated to the organization.
Does Braden 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," says Braden. "When people have an idea and try to shoehorn their cat into it, people can tell it’s not natural. 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 is right at the end of the video.”
2 p.m. Sunday, March 10
Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St.