Watch cat videos, help save your local independent movie theater. That’s the point of Quarantine Cat Film Fest, a new “virtual cinema” event that opens Friday. Audiences can purchase tickets online and stream the ultimate compilation of cat videos as many times as they want all weekend, with roughly half the cost going to support independent movie theaters all over the United States.
It’s a brilliant way with combining something everyone loves (adorable cat videos) with something else people enjoy (going to the movies, and in this case, supporting the small venues that show them). And especially with everything going on in the world right now, it’s a fantastic diversion for families and movie buffs of all ages.
I checked in with Brian Mendelssohn, the genius behind Quarantine Cat Film Fest and the owner of Pittsburgh’s Row House Cinema, to talk about how he turned over a thousand cat videos into one event and discuss the importance of independent movie houses. Get to know more below, and then get your tickets to this special event here!
Brittany Frederick: How did you come up with the idea to do a film fest of just cat videos?
Brian Mendelssohn: Well, we own a movie theater, and as the pandemic happened, we had to shut down. The big fears were, of course, financial and not knowing how long it was going to last. But also losing engagement with our audiences, because as an independent movie theater, that’s how we survive. I was talking over this with my wife and we were lying in bed watching our cats run around, and she was like, why don’t you just film the cats and have everyone film cats, and make a movie from that?
I thought she was joking. A week later, that idea grew – not only to do a film festival for our own audience, but other theaters started loving the idea and wanted to do it for their audiences. Next thing you know, we had 50 theaters on board right off the bat to help compile the submissions of these videos. Now we’re up to like 70 theaters, and so many people are fascinated by this idea and it has just kept growing and growing.
BF: Virtual cinema has really begun to emerge in the last few months. What’s the difference between doing a virtual cinema event and one of the regular events that you’d normally host?
BM: A lot of it, especially when it’s fun, like this is, has to do with that connection you make with the audience, and bringing people who share similar interests together. You don’t lose that [online], but it becomes really difficult. So what we are trying to do by having all the users submit the videos and be participants in this is create a little bit of that atmosphere of a gathering, like a convention, if you will.
BF: You had over a thousand submissions for Quarantine Cat Film Fest. How did you decide what ultimately made the cut?
BM: We received over 1,300 videos and the way we decided to do it was we had three judges – myself being one of them, and two others. One of them owns a “cat café” here in the city of Pittsburgh. The third one is a professional student, she’s 10 years old, and she’s very critical, so we thought that was perfect, and she loves cats. The three of us watched every single one of these videos, we ranked them, and then I had to go through and categorize them and figure it out.
We ended up putting about 480 videos into the film, the final version of the film. And so a lot of it was either the video came to us at just the right time, or we remembered it and it stuck in my head, or I thought it would help the film flow from one video to the next.
BF: The underlying goal of this is very important – supporting independent movie theaters like your own Row House Cinema in Pittsburgh. Can you explain what makes indie theaters different and why they matter in the movie business?
BM: As art houses and independent cinemas, we have an annual convention where we talk to each other, and something we think about a lot is how we can show movies that aren’t just movies you wouldn’t see in a big theater – which is true – but [also] help create a “community center” around movies.
In the city of Pittsburgh, we’re your go-to place if you are a film lover, or want to explore movies, or just want to have fun. It’s going to be a much more entertaining experience seeing it in our movie theater than a big cinema because of the audience, the atmosphere, the discussions, the events, the interviews, all the things that we do above and beyond just showing a film.
BF: Do you have favorite examples of that unique independent cinema experience? Events you’ve hosted at Row House Cinema that you’d call highlights?
BM: I’ve got a whole list of that! We, as a movie house, focus a lot in repertory or older films. A lot of our movies are out on Netflix and whatever, so we’re all about eventizing and having fun with it. One of my favorite nights that we had was “Watermelon Night,” when we showed Dirty Dancing. There’s a famous scene with a watermelon in there, so, everyone got a watermelon when they came in and just held it during the whole film. It just blew up. Everyone took photographs of their watermelons, people made watermelon jokes all night. All right, sure, you’re watching a film like Dirty Dancing that you’ve seen 20 times before, but it’s like summer camp. That experience was taking the film to that next level.
The other thing, a very similar thing actually, is we had a night called “Coconut Night.” I didn’t realize there was a theme to this, but it’s in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Early on, when we opened the theater, we showed Rocky Horror Picture Show, which we love because of the audience participation and the whole thing [around the film]. We thought, what would this be like if we could apply it to Monty Python and the Holy Grail? So we found a local comedy troupe we partnered with, everyone gets a set of coconuts when you walk in, it’s a crazy night. We do it once a quarter. It’s a lot of fun.
Quarantine Cat Film Fest starts on Friday; you can get tickets and see the list of movie theaters that are involved here.