Found Footage Festival keeps videotape alive

There was once a time when people who wanted to watch recorded television had to resort to using a rudimentary object known as a VCR (a video cassette recorder). In this device, people placed videotapes, enormous plastic rectangles that were prone to melting in high temperatures or wearing down after frequent use, often the tapes would be eaten alive by the aforementioned VCR. As the newer, more durable and less space-consuming DVDs and Blu Rays edged the VHS out of the market, those videos began to go the way of the vinyl record – relegated to the dust bins of history, forgotten at rummage sales and in dark corners of attics. The Found Footage Festival seeks to right some of the wrongs done to the abandoned videotape by highlighting videos that don’t get their due in the age of Youtube.

The festival was created by Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, both New York-based comedy writers; Prueher worked for “The Colbert Report” and Pickett was a contributer for “The Onion.” The childhood friends have been scouting out old videos since the ’90s when Prueher came across an instructional video made for McDonald’s employees. “It was for janitors and it was so wonderfully stupid,” says Prueher. “I thought the world needs to see this video. I stole it and showed it to Joe, we fell in love with it and we would have screenings of this video. We were from a small town in Wisconsin, it became this cult thing amongst our circle of friends. We tried to find the actors and everything. We decided there had to be more videos like this, so we would go to break rooms and thrift stores. By 2004 we had enough tapes that we decided we could take this hobby and show it in a theater. We did it in Manhattan and we thought no one would be interested.”

Not so. The 90 minute show, which is ever-evolving based on the duos latest thrift store finds or donations by likeminded video lovers, is just now finishing a 50-state tour on the heels of a nine-country trip through Europe. The show stops in Miami this weekend as part of the Brookly Brewery MASH, a series of events that explore food, music, comedy, literature and beer.

Highlights of the show’s current incarnation include clips from a public access show in Los Angeles called “Dancing with Frank Pacholski.” This is a particular jewel in the Found Footage crown. Says Prueher, “It’s a balding portly man on a public access set wearing nothing but an American flag Speedo and a Lone Ranger mask, he proceeds to dance suggestively to John Philip Sousa marches. The weirdest part is that the audience assembled to watch the show are 8 to 10 elderly people who obviously don’t know why they are there. They are watching this grown man prance around and at one point he pours salad dressing on himself.”

Want more? You’ll see a video that was made in Florida called “Ferret Fun and Fundamentals.” The 1996 video teaches viewers how to properly care for a pet ferret. “At the same time it makes a great argument for why you should not get a ferret, like the musty odor coming from their anus,” Prueher says.

The show features a series of around 50 clips two to three minutes in duration (“We don’t wish it upon anyone to watch these clips in their undigested form.”) and is a guided tour of the pair’s video collection, the bulk of which is now safely stored in an air-conditioned warehouse in Queens, NY. 

The videos present corny corporate pandering, low budget narcissism and kitschy fetishisms, but the Found Footage Festival adheres to strict standards: “We don’t take videos off of Youtube.”

That does not mean the pair won’t use Youtube for research. They are still trying to locate a VHS recording of a 1987 video they saw online called “The Super Broker Shuffle,” a team of white real estate professionals rapping and dancing to the music of “The Super Bowl Shuffle.”

See if you can help them out with that, Miami. And somebody better bring them a copy of  “¿Qué Pasa, USA?”