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'Found Footage Festival' Brings VHS Back from the Media Grave

'Found Footage Festival' Brings VHS Back from the Media Grave

Miss VHS tapes? So do the folks behind the Found Footage Festival.

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher can’t stop collecting forgotten VHS tapes, but they aren’t interested in worn copies of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” or “Beverly Hills Cop.” They seek out the tapes we weren’t meant to see – corporate training clips, public access train wrecks or publicity debacles like a video featuring former teen idol Corey Haim hamming it up for his young fans.

The festival’s current tour stops in Arlington, Va. tonight before moving on to cities including Richmond, Baltimore, Raleigh and Charlotte.

Big Hollywood touched base with Pickett to find out more about this year’s VHS-driven festivities.

Big Hollywood: How would you describe your festival to the uninitiated?

Joe Pickett: The Found Footage Fest is a 90 minute program of videos Nick and I have found at thrift stores and garage sales across the country. We show everything from industrial safety videos to exercise videos, home movies to training videos. Basically videos that weren’t intended for a mass audience. Our rule is that everything we find must be found physically, so that means absolutely no internet videos in our show.

BH: Are you finding it harder to dig up new material, or do you think you’ll be unearthing material for years to come?

JP: We’ve been touring the show for eight years now, and after the second year, we honestly thought the video well had run dry. But boy were we wrong. People are getting rid of their VHS tapes in droves now, so thrift stores are stuffed to the gills with crappy VHS tapes. Plus, nobody is buying them any more, so thrift stores are practically giving them away. The more we tour, the more thrift stores we’re able to pilfer, so I think we’ll be stocked well into the future.

BH: Any personal favorites from this year’s festival?

JP: My personal favorite is a public access video from Los Angeles called “Dancing With Frank Pacholski.” This guy, Frank, shot two episodes in 1999, and we’ve had the first episode in our possession for a while. But recently we found the legendary second episode that’s 1,000 times weirder. Without giving too much away, it involves a man dancing around in Speedos, elderly people, salad dressing and raw chicken.

BH: What advice would you give to fellow VHS hunters?

JP: Feel free to take all the “Jerry Maguires” and “Air Force Ones,” but please don’t take the good ones. We have a job here to do.

BH: Our embrace of VHS came at a critical time in our culture, a moment when reality TV didn’t exist and technology was still pretty raw. What have the festivals taught you about our culture at large?

JP: It’s one of two things: 1) We like to watch things on TV, or 2) We like to watch ourselves on TV. Maybe it’s both. The VHS era was the first time when video became truly cheap to produce, so anyone with a pulse and a few bucks was able to make a video. Corporations were crapping out hokey training videos, celebrities released exercise videos at an alarming rate, and everyone shot home movies no matter how boring the subject matter. In the FFF, we have two different videos about how to play the spoons. Two! I think it says something about the 1980s that there was enough room in the market to allow for two spoons videos.

BH: Any great, “I can’t believe I found this tape here” stories you can share (one or two is just fine!)

JP: I once found a camcorder at an estate sale in Queens, NY for $5 and had to have it. I brought it home, plugged it in, and out popped an unlabeled VHS tape. It turned out to be a SUPER weird home movie featuring an old man wearing a wig and a glittery vest, singing and dancing along to “Phantom Of The Opera.” But it wasn’t in a cute or funny way. It was genuinely a little disturbing since he slightly resembled Buffalo Bill from “Silence Of The Lambs.” I sometimes wonder if that was David Lynch’s estate sale.

BH: The festival must have a loyal fan base at this point, but what do your fans have in common? What have they taught you about the work you do?

JP: There’s a lot of snark and meanness on the Internet and TV, so I think it’s refreshing to our fans that we celebrate the golden age of video, rather than shit on it. We were all somehow complicit in the rise of VHS, so in a way, we’re all laughing at ourselves when we laugh at these videos. But, more than anything, Nick and I have learned that a man dancing in a speedo for elderly people while dumping salad dressing on his head and beating his chest with chicken drumsticks will always be funny.


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