Thanks to her otherworldly cuteness, wide-eyed "perma-kitten" Lil Bub is the Internet's favorite celebri-kitty. Her bright green eyes sparkle with perpetual wonder, and her little pink tongue sticks out beneath an upper lip that's always smiling. She's also polydactyl -- meaning she has thumbs.
When her human, Mike Bridavsky, needs cheering up, he stretches out on the couch and lets her lick his beard for a while. All of these quirks raise a very important question: Has Bub been specifically designed and calibrated by an alien intelligence to shatter our limited human understanding of cuteness?
Andy Capper and Juliette Eisner, directors and producers of the new documentary Lil Bub & Friendz, will neither confirm nor deny the rumor that Bub is not strictly a terrestrial being. If she is an alien, they are fairly certain she wasn't sent here to destroy us, even though the tiny, weird cat certainly dominates some hearts and minds.
"She has a power to her," Eisner says. "She is an exceptional-looking creature."
The Bub-Bridavsky duo is at the center of Lil Bub & Friendz, which premieres April 18 at the Tribeca Film Festival and is also screening at Tribeca's Drive-In Festival on April 20. Capper and Eisner had initially planned to make a short, 10-minute documentary about Internet meme culture, but that plan changed when they attended the Internet Cat Video Film Festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Capper says the event was "sort of like a rock concert."
"When the night started rolling along, thousands and thousands of people started showing up," Eisner adds. "More than 10,000 people were there that night to watch cat videos. It showed us the reach of this phenomenon."
Then there was their auspicious meeting with Lil Bub, which pretty much sealed the deal.
"A magical sort of thing happened in the hotel room where we met her," Capper says. "The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I knew we could make a feature-length out of this beautiful creature, and the more we looked into it, the bigger it got."
Bub's appeal is that she's as cool as she is otherworldly. Bridavsky is not the stereotypical cat person. A young, tattooed musician, he owns a recording studio in Bloomington, Indiana. He swigs beer and swears, and wants to meet a lady friend who is as crazy about his cats as he is. In addition to Bub, he has four other kitties, but because of her many special needs and mobility issues, Bub gets the most attention.
She also gets prime real estate on Bridavsky's arm -- in the film, he gets a new tattoo depicting Bub's adorable face. Bub changed his life from the moment he started sharing her image with the cat-hungry Internet about a year ago.
"A lot of things have happened because of Bub, and that cat is like his daughter, to a certain extent," Eisner says. "He cares about her so much."
In keeping with Bub's serene, celestial nature, the film incorporates surreal elements that take her to heaven and hell and the moon and back. We meet up with Internet stalwarts Nyan Cat, Grumpy Cat, and the venerable Keyboard Cat -- and, on the human side of the equation, the world's first meme agent and some diehard fans who worship their memes the way others worship celebrities.
"He pretends to be freaked out by it, but he loves it," Capper says of Bridavsky. "Mike is a very humble, nice guy. He likes making people happy."
The Internet has also lessened the inherent solitude of cat ownership. Much like dog parks, the Internet gives cat owners a sort of meeting place to share the love -- which is good, because Capper suspects we love our cats more than the ancient Egyptians did. He believes one key to the online kitty-love phenomenon is cats' authenticity -- after all, you can't make a cat do anything, even be adorable. Another piece, of course, is the fact that cat videos demand so little from the viewer in terms of time and attention. They make a perfect midday pick-me-up: "It's almost like a drug," Capper says.
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It has almost become cool to love cats -- much to the delight of one proud cat guy Capper and Eisner interview in the film.
"He was telling us how when he was younger he loved cats and he was such a loser because of it," Eisner says. "Now it's a cool thing that he likes cats, and he can share that with his friends."
And that -- sharing a cat -- is exactly what skyrocketed Bub and Bridavsky to unexpected fame.