Felines, nothing more than felines

Cat videos bring joy to the masses, support to shelter cats

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published February 19, 2020

 CatVideoFest 2020 will be shown at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts Feb. 22 and 23.

CatVideoFest 2020 will be shown at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts Feb. 22 and 23.

Photo provided by CatVideoFest 2020

METRO DETROIT — A furry face, a sudden pounce, an inexplicable fascination with mundane things — there are as many reasons to love cat videos as there are cats.

“Cat video fans, we have discovered, are a separate breed,” said Elliot Wilhelm, the film curator for the Detroit Institute of Arts and the director of the Detroit Film Theatre series at the DIA.

The Detroit Film Theatre is hosting CatVideoFest 2020 with six showings at the DIA Feb. 22-23.

“It’s been kind of an underground sensation, playing at nonprofits generally, but not theater until the last couple of years,” Wilhelm said. “We understood that we had something people wanted to see.”

This is the second year that the Detroit Film Theatre is screening CatVideoFest, which was begun by Will Braden to bring “the joy of cat videos to the masses” and to raise money for cats in need at shelters around the country, according to CatVideoFest’s Facebook page.

“It’s made up of videos that have been available, videos that are specifically submitted for this festival and other things that we want to keep a secret,” Wilhelm said. “It’s edited in a way that makes it feel like a festival.”

Wilhelm said that sometimes, when people hear of the Detroit Film Theatre, they think that it only screens movies that feature extremely serious subjects or are foreign language films. The cat videos, he said, bring in an audience that is much larger and more diverse than typical audiences at the theater.

“We loved having those people introduced to the theater,” he said, explaining that the 1927 vintage theater was built as part of the original construction of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The film theater series began in 1974, and since then, there have been more than 4 million visitors who have viewed films there.

“There’s still room for people who haven’t found us,” Wilhelm said.

Along with giving viewers a warm, fuzzy feeling about felines, cat videos can serve a higher purpose.

Nancy Hutchinson, the president and founder of Michigan Cat Rescue, the oldest nonprofit cat rescue in the state, said that they use videos to help find their rescued cats a home.

“When you see a still photo, it doesn’t really have the same effect as a video. You get to see their manners and how they’re playful,” she said.

She called the rescue “a labor of love” and said that they’re really trying to make a difference in the lives of their cats, many of whom are rescued from “death row” in shelters with high kill rates, where they may be euthanized after a certain amount of time without finding a home. Others in the rescue have been turned over by elderly people or people with terminal health conditions who don’t have any family to take in their pets.

Hutchinson said that she began doing videos of the cats when iPhones were introduced, but the popularity has exploded with the advent of Facebook Live videos.

“The live videos really seem to reach a lot of people,” she said.

There are more than 16,000 followers on the Michigan Cat Rescue Facebook page, and Hutchinson said she has been recognized in the grocery store just by the sound of her voice as heard in the videos.

In the videos, Hutchinson plays with a cat and tells its story to the audience. She said it has definitely led to better outcomes and adoptions for the cats, “because it’s kind of like they get to meet the cat online.”

“How it’s walking, moving around, how it interacts with the volunteer,” she said. “The still photos online, you don’t really know. They’re really cute in the pictures, but you don’t know what they’re really like. Every animal has a different personality.”

Hutchinson said she regularly will get about a thousand views on one video.

“I think Facebook has really ... helped us tremendously with reaching out to people,” she said. “We have a lot more adoptions now because the internet has become more popular.”

She has been contacted by cat lovers all over the world, from as far away as Australia, wanting to adopt a cat just based on its video.

Michigan Cat Rescue has placed more than 6,000 cats into loving homes since its 2003 inception. The organization also assists trap-neuter-release colonies and low-income pet owners with food, helping feed up to 200 cats each day, including the 100 that are usually being cared for by the rescue.

“We love these cats. We want to get more adoptions,” Hutchinson said.

No matter where a viewer watches a video of a cat’s antics, they are likely to experience a lightheartedness that “audiences now are really hungry for,” Wilhelm said.

“It’s kind of a relief, in a sense, to experience something like this and to know in advance when you go in that’s exactly what it’s going to be,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a cliché, but it’s fun for the whole family. It absolutely is enjoyed by all.

“We love the sound of people laughing, and what’s even better is a thousand people laughing.”

CatVideoFest 2020 will be shown at the Detroit Institute of Arts Detroit Film Theatre at 2, 4:30 and 7 p.m. Feb. 22, and at noon, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Feb. 23. Tickets cost $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for seniors, students and members of the DIA. Tickets are available at dia.org/events/catvideofest-2020.

For more information about Michigan Cat Rescue, visit www.micatrescue.org or facebook.com/michigancatrescue, or look for the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization on Instagram. The rescue also has an Amazon Wish List for donors to support.