The uninitiated might be skeptical about the entertainment value of industrial training films, exercise videos, old home movies, recordings of vintage public-access shows, and religious VHS tapes. But if you've seen even a little of the Found Footage Festival, you'll know this treasure trove of kitsch is howling good fun.
For eight years, Found Footage gurus Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have been presenting hidden gems from their growing collection of strange, embarrassing, awkward, inappropriate and flat-out hilarious videos, culled mostly from the VHS heyday of the 1970s through the '90s.
Prueher says the show's clips all derive from physical media. "We don't take anything off the Internet. We have a real fondness for VHS, because it's the format we grew up with," he explains.
"There's something special about that period—it was the first time most people had video in their homes, with Jane Fonda workout videos, or video fireplaces, or VCR board games. It was a time when small production companies could make and distribute any sort of videos cheaply, and many of the producers were amateurs."
The latest edition of the Found Footage Festival comes to Tucson this Saturday night for a showing at the Loft Cinema, one of the earliest champions of the festival.
This is the most-ambitious tour in the Found Footage Festival's history, Prueher says. "We are going to take it to all 50 states."
Among the highlights are a video featuring a craft sponger whose enthusiasm borders on the psychotic; an all-new compilation of exercise tapes, including one called The Sexy Treadmill Workout; highlights from a 1986 video about the fundamentals of ferret care; and heretofore unseen clips of yo-yo TV prankster Kenny "K-Strass" Strasser.
While Prueher and Pickett's offerings primarily focus on footage from videotapes, they will include an "opening act" of educational and hygiene films from the 1960s and '70s, collected by renowned collector Skip Elsheimer, of the archive A/V Geeks.
When these guys began curating the festival, they were gainfully employed, Pickett at The Onion and Prueher at the Late Show With David Letterman. Four years ago, they were able to leave their day jobs and devote all of their time to the festival. Now both 36, they aren't getting rich, but they are able to pay rent and utilities.
Prueher says the duo's video collection—housed in an ultrasecure facility in Queens, N.Y.—has grown to more than 6,000 tapes.
"And those are just the keepers; that doesn't include the stuff we reject and take right back to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. We have another 1,500 tapes that still need to be watched. Everywhere we go, we collect new videos. We were just in Denver and other cities in Colorado, and we sent home two boxes of videos we found there."
Thrift stores are a big source of Found Footage material, as are used bookstores. "Whenever we are in Tucson, we spend at a least a couple of hours at Bookmans."
When the Found Footage guys bring their show to town, it's not simply a straightforward screening.
"We get up there and explain how and where we found these videos, and help put them in context. Sometimes, we talk over the videos, making comments or jokes about them," Prueher says. "And for this show, we tracked down two of the people in the videos. We actually hired a private investigator to find them, and then we met them and interviewed them on camera."
One of those interview subjects is Frank Pacholski, whose contribution to the Found Footage Festival is an excerpt from a short-lived show on Los Angeles public-access TV in 1999. In the clip, the husky, balding Pacholski is clad only in a black mask and a red, white and blue thong swimsuit as he prances and slaps his buttocks in front of bewildered senior citizens.
After the private eye located Pacholski, the meeting with him was as odd as his video, Prueher says.
"He wanted to meet us at a specific lifeguard stand on the Santa Monica pier, and he was in a mask the whole time," Prueher says. "He was very standoffish. He insisted that what he did was art. We basically left with more questions than we had when we arrived."
The original footage is priceless. You have to see it—and you can at the festival website—to truly grasp its innate weirdness.
"It's definitely one of the most-mysterious videos in our collection," Prueher says. "That's one of those that, once you have seen it, you can't unsee it. It kind of gets burned in your brain."