In 2012, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis launched the International Cat Video Festival, an event both sincere and tongue-in-cheek and featuring — that’s right — cat videos from the Internet. The fest was a hit and returns this year Aug. 21.
Here in Chicago, a similarly themed festival emerged last year with a slightly different focus: Rather than spotlighting YouTube videos, the films screened come from the pre-digital age. Very Fine Cats Indeed: Experimental Feline Films on 16mm screens Thursday and includes two separate programs — one appropriate for all ages (7 p.m.), and the other suitable for adults only (8 p.m.).
The racier stuff includes Carolee Schneemann’s “Fuses” from 1967 (23 minutes) that Phillips described as the director “basically making a film of her and her partner having sex, from the point of view of her cat. You do see the cat sometimes. The idea of the film was a reaction against pornography. Instead of the male gaze it’s the feline gaze.” Even Phillips couldn’t say the last part without laughing. Schneemann then left the film out in the rain and smothered it with food to add a strange texture to the celluloid.
Phillips said the fest was spawned as a jokingly crabby response to the International Cat Video Festival: “People have been making films about cats for a lot longer than the Internet has been around. This isn't a new thing. Cats are just really photogenic. They can be sitting on a couch not doing anything and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is great cinema!’” The films selected by Phillips were made between the 1960s and 1990s.
“These films are impossible to see unless you rent the prints and show them, so I haven’t seen them." (Only a portion of "Fuses" is available online.) "I don’t know that an 8-year-old would care to sit and watch these films. They’re kind of weird and out there.”
Phillips himself is a cat man. His tortoiseshell named Mini “keeps me company in my office all day, looking cinematic.” Phillips said he tried looking for dog films as well but came up dry. Experimental filmmakers, it seems, prefer cats.
“You never really know what a cat is thinking,” said Phillips, which somehow translates into something interesting on camera. “And I think they’re self-consciously posing. If they sit in this patch of sun and turn their head a certain way, they know you’ll say ‘Aw, how cute’ and go over and pet them."
Very Fine Cats Indeed: Experimental Feline Films on 16mm screens Thursday at Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219 S. Morgan St. Tickets are $7. Go to southsideprojections.org.