Come for the film festival, stay for the cat videos: KidsBestFest 2015

In Northampton, some parents may not want their kids in front of a screen watching cat videos all day during February break. Others, however, take their kids to the theater to do just that.

On Wednesday, February 17 locals from Northampton and the surrounding area gathered for a dose of funny felines at Northampton’s first Internet Cat Festival at the Academy of Music Theater. The festival, which its organizers describe as “the first offline celebration of online cat videos,” began as an open-air showing at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, MN in 2012. Having met success, it has since taken to the road on a national tour, with Northampton as its third stop in 2015.

Originally scheduled as a single afternoon screening, the Arts Council added a special 7:30 p.m. showing of the Internet Cat Festival due to popular demand and enthusiasm about the event.

“We’re expecting to laugh a lot,” said Jessica Bacal, who attended the Internet Cat Video festival with her children Elijah and Edie. “It’ll be good to see some silliness.”

This celebration of the Internet Cat Festival festival marked day two of a five day KidsBestFest, a kid-centric film festival held during the school system’s February break. KidsBestFest, an international kids film festival first held in 1998, has historically been co-presented in Northampton by the Northampton Arts Council and the Academy of Music Theater and is celebrating its seventeenth year in the Paradise city. The program is also sponsored by Northampton Community Television and Florence Bank.

The Academy of Music held KidsBestFest in Northampton over the week of February break, Photo by Conor Snell

"This year is our first year offering free admission, and it has been greatly increasing our attendance numbers," said Brian Foote, director of the Northampton Arts Council. Attendees in prior years were charged a nominal three dollar admission fee, but the new suggested donation - which puts more people in the seats - will probably lead to more focus on gaining sponsorships in the future, according to Foote.

"We also owe [increased attendance] to our programming choices this year, which have been very well received," said Foote. "In total, the Internet Cat Festival had over 650 people at both screenings."

Other scheduled events for KidsBestFest include screenings of the films “The Boy and the World,” “On the Way to School,” and “The Never-Ending Story” on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, respectively.

The festival will finish off with YouthFilm 2015, a film festival featuring short films made exclusively by kids aged 18 and under from Western Mass. The festival will also feature select films from the California Film Institute, a young adult filmmaking program similar to YouthFilm started by Pleasant Street Theater co-founder John Morrison.

YouthFilm 2015 will feature short films, each no longer than 30 minutes, from a host of local teens and younger, including several groups of students from local film workshops and classes from Northampton High School. Targeted audience age ranges from zero to five year olds for the first few films, and pieces with edgier or more mature content directed at kids aged 13 to 17 coming later in the night. A special category has also been added for “Sprintys,” or rapidly produced short films from  Northampton Community Television's 7 Day Film Sprint which took place last year in September.

Scheduled films for YouthFilm 2015 include “Him,” an inventive twist on the 2013 Spike Jonze film “Her,” as well as “Giraffe Party,” Baking Bad,” and “How to Be a Cannibal.”

"I think the idea of having a free film festival in a historic movie house in Northampton is a great service for the public to come and have a cinematic experience with their children. I don't think children get that a lot nowadays," said Foote.

"Especially in a cinema like this with 800 seats and 19th century  architecture, so I think it's going to expose a lot of kids to art in a way that's not really happening anymore," he added.

When Foote stepped into the directorial role for the Arts Council in late 2013 he was excited to begin planning the annual KidsBestFest.

"I used to work in the Academy of Music theater and always liked being involved with the production of this festival," said Foote, greeting guests in the lobby on Thursday with invitations to warm seats and fresh popcorn. "The biggest thing I love to do is sit here and put on a film and listen to a hundred kids laugh."

KidsBestFest will conclude on Friday, February 20 with the showing of YouthFilm 2015 at 1:30 p.m. As with all other events at KidsBestFest, entrance is free with a suggested donation.