Will Braden had no intentions of turning his cat into an internet superstar. In fact, the Seattle filmmaker behind the much-loved Henri, le Chat Noir videos admits the very first cat video he ever made was an act of film school desperation.
"I was supposed to do a profile of someone — that was the whole assignment," says Braden. "I had procrastinated on the assignment and had no time left, but I was house sitting, and had a camera and some cats. So I decided if I did a profile of a depressed, existential cat in the style of these French films we'd been watching in class, maybe, if it was funny enough, they wouldn't notice that I didn't really follow the assignment."
In addition to getting an A on the project, Braden found himself creating a celebrity. And this weekend he will show that celebrity off in the 2015 Internet Cat Video Festival makes its way to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The festival was created by the IMA's own Scott Stulen, and was a large reason why he came to the museum.
Now Scott is working as the IMA's curator of audience experiences and performance. The former Walker staff member remembers when he and his intern at the time (Katie Hill) first came up with the festival's overall concept.
"The idea was really to take content that normally just exists online, either on your phone or on your laptop, and see what would happen if we took that offline and made it more of a shared social experience," he says.
This first festival got off to a loud purring start in 2012, drawing more than 10,000 people to the grounds of Minneapolis' Walker Arts Center. Since then, it has lived through four seasons and been in more than 150 cities around the world.
When he approached the Walker with this idea, Stulen openly admits that the highly touted art center was a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of hosting a cat video event at first. "It wasn't normally what the museum did, or maybe even wanted to be associated with," he says. Considering the fact that his festival has now been hosted by numerous other museums around the world, though, Stulen believes he's made a firm point that accessible events like his do belong in the context of a cultural institution.
The IMA's festival has three separate showings and reels featuring more than 85 videos spanning 75 minutes, and includes everything from six-second Vine snippets to cat-centered short films. At each screening, audiences will also be treated to a pre-show introduction featuring an on-stage appearance from Bloomington's very own Lil BUB.
Ultimately, Stulen uses the Internet Cat Video Festival as an example of what he hopes to accomplish with his programming at the IMA too.
"Through the Internet Cat Video Festival and through other things, I want to break down what people's perceptions of a museum are," says Stulen. "I want to blow that up a bit, and I want to make this seem like a place where the unexpected happens — a place where you can have a cat video festival and a serious art show in the same place."
So while he humbly admits that the Internet Cat Video Festival may always stand as the defining highlight of his career, his goal of connecting more and more people to arts and culture is one that will never fade away.
"In the end, all I hope to do in any of the work that I'm doing is to be able to have something that has an impact on people and that also better connects them to world around them," says Stulen. "If I can do that, mission accomplished."
Cat Video Festival Screening with Special Guest Lil BUB
November 20, 7 pm
November 21, 3 pm
November 21, 7 pm
IMA, The Toby
$8 for members, $10 for non-members