This is just one of the many cute kitties audiences will see at the PAWfest at the Texas Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 23.EXPAND
This is just one of the many cute kitties audiences will see at the PAWfest at the Texas Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 23.
screenshot from CatVideoFest teaser

The Dallas VideoFest Pawfest Turns Cats and Dogs into Stars on the Big Screen

Few humans aren't amused, awed and amazed by the antics of kittens and puppies in viral videos. It's Zoloft in video form.

Will Braden spends his days collecting and organizing the cutest of the cuddliest as the curator of CatVideoFest.com and tours in movie theaters across America, including the Dallas VideoFest Pawfest on Thursday, Aug. 23, at Texas Theatre.

"There are videos that are totally meant to make you laugh and more that are like an ‘awww’ video and some touching stuff," Braden says. "There’s one about this feral cat who was taken in by a shelter and was quite old and grizzled and just used to being on the street, and they didn’t think he’d find a home. A family found him and adopted him and he just became chill.”

Braden's pet movie festival started in Minneapolis in 2012 as a special outdoor event for the Walker Art Center. He suggested a cat video festival as an event that strayed away from the normal fare of art museums. So he helped curate the reels of some cute cat videos for an outdoor screening and put out the call for submissions from local pet owners.

"The response was just huge," Braden says. "We got 11,000 people for the first one."

The festival became one of the Art Center's most attended and popular events for four years. Braden also submitted his own film, a monochrome, French existentialist movie about a cat called Henri, le Chat Noir. The film won the festival's gold prize and became a viral celebrity spawning a web series, a book and a series of calendars.

The Walker Art Center ended the festival in 2016 because he and they felt, according to Braden, that it had just "run its course." He still had a slew of films he had yet to show and buzzing interest from audiences, so he decided to share them with other cinemas outside of Minnesota.

"I realized I'd be curating this and was the face of it unofficially," Braden says. "So I figured I'll start an organization, and all that will change is that I'll have to do the front and the behind the scenes. Now, it's my full-time gig, planning events and traveling to host events."

The board of the Dallas VideoFest heard about Braden's unique film festival concept in 2016 and decided to partner with the Cat Video Fest to make it an annual event for Dallas cat lovers starting in 2017. The event was so popular that he expanded the Cat Video Fest to include videos of dogs and puppies and renamed it Pawfest.

“When I started putting dog videos into the reel, it was a challenge because dogs videos, we find them funny but not in the same way that we find cat videos funny," Braden says. "If a cat falls off a chair, we laugh, but if a puppy falls off, we go, 'Oh no, I hope he’s OK.'”

Braden says his current reel includes 125 dog and cat clips that add up to a running time of 80 minutes and are categorized into sections like drama, comedy and the classics, such as the famed Keyboard Cat and Grumpy Cat.

"A lot of videos I've edited into montages with music and intro cards, so it’s more of a total experience rather than just going video, video, video," he says. "What I don’t want is being in a theater and having the same experience of watching these videos on your laptop. I put them into categories so it feels like an experience where you’re watching these very short videos.”

Braden says he also makes sure that all the videos are something audiences of every age can watch and enjoy.

"They have to be G-rated," he says. "We have to appeal to all the demos. There's one of the videos where someone puts up a middle finger and it's only for a half-a-second, but I blurred it out."

It's also important to Braden that his work benefits cats and dogs off the screen, which is why a portion of the ticket sales go to dog and cat rescue and adoptions groups like Cat Matchers and Straydogs Inc. and MADE in Texas Assistance Dogs.

"Big, big cities should have something like this," Braden says. "None of this would work if we weren't doing this for cats and dogs who need help."

Tickets are $15.

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