Cat videos to the rescue

Can a collection of cat videos help save independent movie houses from the economic ravages of the pandemic?

Do cats know that there is a pandemic? Cat lover, filmmaker and movie theatre owner Brian Mendelssohn isn’t sure, but he is struck by the feline capacity for empathy.

“My wife is pregnant now and our cat Oliver has literally been sleeping on her every night, protecting her and the kid,” Mendelssohn says. “So they definitely sense what we’re feeling and what we’re doing.”

Mendelssohn’s fascination with cats is felt in every frame of the Quarantine Cat Film Fest, an 84-minute movie he directed that features cat videos from across America. The film is filled with feasting, lounging and adventuring cats—and it’s raising money for independent theatres affected by the pandemic (including several in Oregon). “‘Funny’ and ‘cute’—those things that we need during a pandemic,” Mendelssohn says. “We just needed a boost right now.”

Mendelssohn (who owns the Row House Cinema in Pittsburgh) got the idea for the film while watching the aforementioned Oliver wiggle his bottom for two minutes straight during a standoff with his Basset Hound, Copper. “They were just being weird and goofy toward each other, and it was so adorable to watch,” Mendelssohn says, “and my wife was like, ‘This would be hilarious to film.’”

The Quarantine Cat Film Fest is available online.

After the festival was announced in May, Mendelssohn received more than 1,300 submissions. “When you start watching that many all in a row—we were watching 200 a day—it just becomes your mind, if that makes sense,” he says. “You start putting them into different categories and you automatically see patterns. There were probably like 12 films submitted with cat and squirrel interactions.”

The emerging patterns allowed Mendelssohn to divide the film into chapters. They include “Kittens,” “Brave Cats” and the impishly titled “Very Active Cats,” which is packed with videos of magnificently relaxed cats, many of whom stare into the camera with adorably dazed expressions (“My cats,” Mendelssohn admits, “don’t lounge that cute”).

Mendelssohn is pleased with the festival’s earnings (“We’ve probably raised $18,000-$20,000 directly for cinemas so far, which is pretty good,” he says), but there’s no denying that movie theatres are facing a potential twilight. Hopes that the industry would reignite in July with the release of Tenet (a spy flick from Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight) died when the film was delayed, and analysts are predicting that theatres could remain closed until September or possibly even 2021.

Yet the Quarantine Cat Film Fest offers a sense of communal pleasure that moviegoers are missing. Four Oregon theatres are selling virtual tickets to the film—the Broadway Metro in Eugene, Darkside Cinema in Corvallis, the Bijou in Lincoln City and the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, which Mendelssohn says is “one of my favorite theaters in the country.”

Mendelssohn has been asked if a dog festival is next—an idea he clawed to shreds when he told USA Today that “no one wants to watch dogs.” “I did get some shit for that, for sure,” he says. “I like dogs too, to an extent. Cats are just more mysterious and more playful, and they just do such random, unique things that we aren’t expecting. Dogs are adorable, but they’re more predictable, so they don’t make as good characters on TV, if you will.”

Yet to Mendelssohn, cats aren’t just amusing—they are a constant in his life. “I have two cats now,” he says. “They are both 17 years old, and so they’ve been with me my entire adult life. They kind of got me through everything—through a divorce, through good times, through bad times, they’ve lived with me. I love them to death.”

Tickets for the Quarantine Cat Film Festival are available at https://rowhouse.online/

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