By Dr. Mary Fuller
Grumpy Cat and her owner Tabitha Bundesen make their debut while meeting Lil Bub at the Internet Cat Video Festival …The Internet can make you feel like your cat is a slacker. All those videos of cats riding skateboards and sparring with blow-dryers, cats singing to acid rock and playing patty-cake - even cats using Facebook to trash-talk dogs! And at the 2013 Internet Cat Video Festival in St. Paul, Minn., cats did all this - and more.
Photo Gallery: YouTube Stars Shine at Cat Video Festival
The brainchild of the Walker Art Center, a highly regarded contemporary art museum in Minneapolis, this year's festival was held at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand and was streamed live online around the world by sponsor Animal Planet.
If the organizers were surprised by the turnout at last year's inaugural event - over 10,000 people (and sundry cats) attended - the event's worldwide appeal is no less confounding. The museum has fielded nearly 300 requests to tour the festival in other cities from San Diego, Boston, and Portland to Vienna, Jerusalem, and Dublin.
The language of the cat, it seems, is universal.
Prior to the August 29 event, a team of 22 jurors sifted through more than 10,000 videos crowd-sourced by the online community from around the world to arrive at a 70-minute reel of 80 new videos. Like other award shows, the videos are presented by category, such as comedy, documentary, drama, foreign film, musical and even lifetime achievement.
The clips ranged from the awwwww-inspiring and artful to the silly - and at least one video that could only be the result of some heavy catnip influence. Some were shaky, handheld cell phone captures while others were slick, professional productions that included a crew of writers, directors, actors and composers.
Bonnie Eenigenburg transformed herself into NoNo Cat for the Internet Cat Video Festival.New This Year: Celebrity Appearances
The festival has transformed the solitary practice of watching online cat videos into a communal experience; the thousands of cat lovers in attendance gathered together to view the videos on a series of jumbo screens. And the audience lapped it up, meowing in unison, shouting "cats are cool," and joining in a sing-along led by a cat head bouncing over the onscreen lyrics.
As with other award ceremonies, many attendees saw the event as an opportunity to make a fashion statement. Some sported cat ears and tails; others wore stuffed cats on their shoulders or toted cell phones with furry feline covers. There were "It's Meow or Never" T-shirts and whisker-painted cheeks. And most attendees, of course, wore a little cat hair as well.
Related: Grumpy Cat Scores Big Movie Deal
And this awards ceremony included a red carpet as well. Cameras flashed as the Internet's hottest feline sensations took to the stage. Online mega-star Lil Bub was brought out to meet Grumpy Cat (whose off-screen name is really "Tardar Sauce"). The cats were joined by the humans behind their videos, many of whom have achieved commercial success - and, in some cases, celebrity status of their own.
Will Braden, creator of "Henri 2, Paw de Deux" and winner of last year's Golden Kitty Award, has quit his day job as a videographer and now spends his time doing interviews, managing Henri's website (which includes a store with Henri-branded items), and weighing commercial appearance requests for Henri. Braden is also busy dreaming up new videos and posting Henri's daily musings on Facebook and Twitter.
Other video makers from last year have gone so far as to hire agents and attorneys, and three of them, including Braden, have recently published books featuring their camera-loving cats.And the Winner Is…
In the spirit of community, the festival's highest honor, the Golden Kitty Award, was chosen by online voting and input from the museum staff. This year's winner was "The Original Grumpy Cat," featuring - of course - Grumpy Cat. The seven winners of this year's Lifetime Achievement award, selected by a team of journalists, cat culture bloggers and curators, took home a silver statuette designed to look like the new cat-shaped Monopoly piece designed by Hasbro.
The cat antics continued after the screenings ended on Wednesday night, with an after-party at the local Kitty Cat Club, complete with DJs spinning cat-themed recordings and live music from the band Kitten Forever, followed by book signings and a discussion group with last year's video artists on Thursday.
If you couldn't make it to Minnesota to cat about in costume, you may still have an opportunity to join in the fun. The festival plans to take the show on the road to Memphis, Oakland and Austin's SXSW music festival, for starters. And who knows, maybe your own feline has a talent just waiting to be discovered?
Want to scope out the competition? Check out this YouTube selection of 2013 Cat Film Festival entries!