MAYFAIR — Forget about nine lives. Thanks to YouTube, cats have about a billion.
The phenomenon that is the Internet cat video has not only spawned "celebricats" like Lil Bub, it now boasts its own film festival, which rolls into Chicago's Irish American Heritage Center on Saturday.
The centerpiece of the daylong cat-stravaganza is a 75-minute reel featuring more than 60 videos of cats looking grumpy, taking pratfalls, suffering existential crises and just being cats. The film, curated by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, will screen every two hours between noon and 8 p.m.
And, yes, actual cats are invited to attend, though most owners "know their cat would hate it," said Scott Stulen, the festival's producer.
This is the second cat video festival organized by the Walker Art Center, which drew 10,000 feline fanatics to Minnesota's state fair grounds in August. The fest's wild popularity prompted the center to take the film on the road, much like a traveling exhibit. The tour includes stops in more than a dozen cities, from San Francisco to Montreal, and even a detour to Northern Ireland.
"It transcends language and culture," Stulen said of the cat craze. "It's kind of amazing how well it translates."
The fest is being tailored to each city, with special guests appearing at each venue and Q&A sessions following the screenings.
Stulen will be on hand in Chicago, along with Will Braden, creator of "Henri, Le Chat Noir," a series of short web films featuring the musings of Henri the cat — "My thumbs are not opposable. Yet I oppose everything" — spoken in French.
More than 7,000 videos were submitted for the fest's consideration. Stulen viewed the top 500 candidates and whittled them down to the final reel.
"Everybody knows there's thousands, if not millions, of cat videos," he said. The film festival arose out of the question of "How do we find the best?"
Some of the clips Stulen selected feature fan favorites like Lil Bub but others introduce "emerging stars" like Col. Meow from L.A., who Stulen said is even "surlier" than Grumpy Cat.
Chicagoan Alana Grelyak's "Catalogue" video took second place in the festival's competition and will screen on Saturday.
"I always tell people, 'If you don't like a clip, another one is coming in 30 seconds,'" said Stulen.
The staying power of cat videos fascinates Stulen, who pinpoints felines' cold-shoulder personalities as the heart of their appeal.
"Dogs want to be filmed and cats couldn't care less. That makes them more interesting," he said.
More than anything, the videos are just plain fun, said Stulen.
"We're not doing this with layers of hipster irony," he said. "It's one of the few things where you can take a couple of hours and just be happy."
The Internet Cat Video Festival runs 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Oct. 19, Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance; proceeds will benefit Tree House and Chicago Cat Rescue. Costumes are encouraged, and will be rewarded.