Arts·List

The best cat videos ever, in honour of a festival devoted to just that

Just For Cats fest launches April 14, but every day is an internet cat video festival when you have this list. Magali Simard, the Film Programmes Manager & Programmer at TIFF, will co-host the latest edition of the festival with help from celebrity cat Lil BUB. Here, she shares her Top 5 favourite cat videos, from "Surprised Kitten" and "Thug Cat" to the cat on YouTube with the greatest artistic merit.

Just For Cats launches April 14, but every day is an internet cat video festival when you have this list

Celebrity guest cat Lil BUB will host Just For Cats April 14 in Toronto. The film festival, which is entirely devoted to internet cat videos, launches its third edition this year. (lilbub.com)

Puppies can be sweet and all, and there's a proven audience for a sneezing panda or smirking baby sloth, but if any animal has a true "forever home" on the internet, surely it's the cat. Its pawprints are all over the videos we watch and the language we "can haz" use, and we've awwww'ed as Keyboard Cats begat LOLCats and Cat Bread became the greatest thing since the sliced variety.

There's no such thing as "population control" on the internet and so the memes keep having kittens, proliferating like a stray in heat. That's given plenty of material to Just For Cats, a Canada-wide film festival in its third year that's entirely dedicated to internet cat videos.

Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox hosts the kick-off April 14 with back-to-back screenings, and throughout the summer, this IRL YouTube playlist of kitty comedy and drama will appear in more than a dozen cinemas around the country, including Halifax, Edmonton and Haida Gwaii, B.C. with each centre donating proceeds to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.  

At the Toronto launch, celebrity cat Lil BUB will be in attendance, no doubt christening the event with her adorably famous spittle and presenting the show with help from human co-host Magali Simard, Film Programmes Manager and Programmer at TIFF.

"Personally, I can't wait to see her," Simard says of Lil BUB. The programmer fought to bring Just for Cats to Toronto in 2012, and counts it as a "total, literal pet project."

"I think we realized that pop art or entertainment that's found online is highly celebrated on internet platforms, but never or rarely seen on the big screen," Simard says of Just for Cats. Maru's greatest box-jumping hits have been viewed more than 21 million times, for example, "but it's not something we ever experience together."

That concept of communal cat viewing was pioneered by the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, who launched their Internet Cat Video Festival in 2012, an event that attracts more than 10,000 locals annually, and which has spawned an international tour. Just For Cats uses a version of their programme, which is curated by the human behind YouTube star Henri Le Chat Noir, Will Braden.
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As for what audiences will see at Just For Cats, they'll find a couple Canadian selections: "Guinea Pig vs. Cat" from Yarmouth, N.S. and the modern classic, "Kitten Surprise." 

"It's mostly cats embarrassing themselves, which is always the best," says Simard — whether they're falling off a couch or getting stuck in a vase. "For me, they're the best ones because I think we get the full narrative of a cat's emotions. We go from 0 to 100 in about a nanosecond," says Simard of their acting range, a unique talent as far as internet-famous animals go. "My theory around why they're more popular than dog videos is that."

And unlike other film festivals — like September's TIFF, for instance, where Simard co-programs the festival's Canadian features — Just For Cats isn't so much about scoring the latest cat video premieres, though we trust the great cucumber scourge of 2015 will be duly represented. It's more about revisiting the familiar hits, as cozy an experience as curling up with Mittens or Paw-Paw or whatever you've named your BFF feline. 

On that note, CBC Arts asked Simard to share five of her all-time favourite cat videos, selections which appear in this year's show.

Cat video that'll make you LOL

"It's so hard to pick, but I do love this one," says Simard. "I think we find cats hilarious because they can act with entitlement — which I am absolutely fine with."

Cat video that'll make you go awwww

Says Simard: "If you don't like this video you are probably a monster."

Most dramatic cat video

"He seems to experience the profound fear of seeing a mad cat looking at you that way. Humans know how this feels."

Most WTF cat video

"Laziness and fear in equal measure."

Most "artistic merit"

Want more examples? Simard recommends Henri le Chat's entire YouTube channel. "His existential musings, the appropriate use of black and white, the subtitles — all of it shows a love of European cinema and Henri has a profound philosophical bent. Serious."

Just For Cats Video Festival. April 14 7:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox, Toronto. www.tiff.net

Visit www.justforcats.ca to find information on future festival dates around the country, including Red Deer, Alta. (April 21), Edmonton (June 11-14), Haida Gwaii, B.C. (June 2), Waterloo, Ont. (June 18), Vancouver (June 26) and Winnipeg (July 6).

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