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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: March 25, 2019

Cats scratch their way onto the big screen at PMA

Written by: Ray Routhier

Tony Campbell/Shutterstock.com

If cat videos are funny, enthralling and enchanting on the tiny screen of your iPhone, think about how much better they’d be on the big screen of a movie theater.

You can test this theory for yourself when the CatVideoFest 2019 plays at the Portland Museum of Art, Friday through Wednesday. It’s a 70-minute compilation film of more than 100 cat videos from all over the world. Cats are seen snuggling babies, playing tug of war with dollar bills, standing on people’s shoulders, climbing, jumping, preening and just being cats.

Some are quick glimpses, seen as part of montages, and others are longer mini-films with music and creative editing. Some are like music videos, some are mini-documentaries, others are animated.

Will Braden, the Seattle filmmaker who compiles and edits the videos together, says his aim is to find the best examples of cat films available.

SEEKING ‘THE FULL BREADTH’

“We don’t want just the really silly 20-second accidental videos made with a phone,” Braden said. “We’re looking for the full breadth of what cat videos can be, including funny and touching moments.”

Braden says he thinks a lot of cat videos on the internet can be “mean spirited,” and it’s obvious that the cat’s owners came up with a premise and tried to force the cat into performing. But most cat lovers know a cat can’t, and shouldn’t, be forced into anything.

“The cat’s owners can pick up the physical cues and know when the cat is not having a good time,” said Braden, who says he looks at more than 10,000 video submissions each year while putting the event together.

In montages, mini-films and music videos, CatVideoFest captures felines doing all sorts of silly things. Photo courtesy of CatVideoFest

The CatVideoFest 2019 is touring 150 cities this year, Braden said, and some of the videos have already gotten a lot of attention from fans. One is a 3-minute music video called “Kratzbaum,” roughly meaning “scratch tree” or scratching post in German. It focuses on cats and their owners at a German cat show. In a series of very quick cuts, cats are seen being groomed, playing, strutting and sleeping. Other shots show the owners’ prepping, eating and collecting trophies, all to a techno beat. Another notable video is of an owner who can point a finger at his cat, at any moment, make a “bang” sound, and his cat will drop to the ground, lay there and play dead.

FRENCH IMPRESSIONISM

Braden first realized the power of cat videos when he made a black and white film about a friend’s cat named Henry. He tried to mimic French impressionistic films and called his work “Henri le Chat Noir.” The cat was seen looking pensive and, via subtitles, musing about a variety of subjects. One of his quotes was: “I’ve felt that art is futile … like hope or scratching post.”

The film was an internet sensation and won Braden the Golden Kitty Award at the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Film Festival in 2012. Braden went on to curate the cat videos at the festival for the next three years, before starting the traveling CatVideoFest in 2016. Last year, the compilation of cat videos played about 40 venues, mostly museums and art house cinemas. This year, it’s booked into 150 venues, Braden said. It played the Strand Theatre in Rockland earlier in March.

At each venue where CatVideoFest plays, money is raised for local cat groups and shelters. During the Portland Museum of Art’s run of CatVideoFest, money will be raised for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Braden said the money will come from a portion of ticket sales and donations.

“These organizations are so important,” Braden said. “We’re really happy that (CatVideoFest) can help them.”

CAT VIDEO FEST 2019

WHEN: 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday. At press time, shows scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday were sold out.
WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square, Portland
HOW MUCH: $9, $7 for members and students with I.D.
INFO: portlandmuseum.org, catvideofest.com

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