A Considerable Town

What's It Like to Watch 10,000 Cat Videos? Ask Kate Hill

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Thu, Oct 11, 2012 at 5:00 AM
click to enlarge The Walker Center's festival drew thousands. - PHOTO BY GENE PITTMAN
  • Photo by Gene Pittman
  • The Walker Center's festival drew thousands.

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Katie Hill, the 28-year-old program associate responsible for the first-ever Internet Cat Video Film Festival and, some critics allege, the subsequent "downfall of modern society," watched more than 10,000 cat videos in a single month. She is otherwise a normal-looking girl, although watching so many cats in such a short period of time probably changes you in ways not immediately apparent to the naked eye.

"It was a lark," she says of her festival idea. "It's been a whirlwind of craziness ever since."

Flopping down on a sofa at the crowded Silent Movie Theatre this past August, she seems discombobulated. With the festival a week away, the nonprofit film foundation Cinefamily had flown her from Minnesota to Los Angeles to present a small sampling of the videos. "I have cats, and I like cat videos," she continues. "But I was not at the 10,000-video level of love before this. It was quite a game changer for my lifestyle."

In fact, she'd initially proposed the idea to her bosses at the Walker Art Center as kind of a joke. But when they agreed, and the Minneapolis museum invited the public to nominate their favorite videos, thousands of entries poured in. Hill was tasked with winnowing the submissions down to about an hour's worth of footage, or 79 videos.

Coming up with categories was easy. Comedy, foreign, drama, musical, documentary, art house, lifetime achievement, animated and people's choice -- done and done. Watching the videos, however, was another story. "It was hard," she recalls.

Hill compiled a master spreadsheet of cat videos and began watching two months in advance. Pacing, a strict schedule and manageable goals were key. Come home from work, eat, watch cat videos for two hours a night, sleep. Two hours of viewing time was the upper limit. "More than that, it gets kind of weird."

Procrastination was not an option, because the idea of watching cat video after cat video for 24 hours straight at the last minute was, frankly, horrifying. "Oh, no way, man," she says. "That would be too much."

Working a full-time job and devoting every spare minute to Internet cats got rough. Hill's husband would intervene at these moments with a gentle but firm, "OK. Shut off your computer. We're gonna go outside and not talk about cats."

Doing cat press became part of her daily routine. First the local press called, then national, then international. Newspapers in Ireland and Kansas City sought interviews, as did Newsweek, Wired, TIME, the BBC and the I Can Has Cheezburger blog. Do you have cats, they asked? How many? What's your favorite video? How did you get away with such a silly concept at such a serious, prestigious contemporary art institution? To which the answers are: yes, two, she can't pick, and it wasn't a curatorial decision.

In fact, the museum was hosting the festival as part of its Open Field initiative for experimental public gatherings, which aims to explore the realm of the creative commons -- the notion that certain cultural resources (images, language, computer code, even cat videos) "can and should be commonly owned."

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