Found Footage Festival finds humor in discards


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Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett love watching and sharing videos that are so bad, they’re good.

They are the co-creators, co-curators and co-hosts of the Found Footage Festival: a touring showcase of the funniest and most bizarre videos that Mr. Prueher and Mr. Pickett have discovered over the past year or so. Now in its 10th year, the festival will make its second appearance at Pittsburgh Filmmakers‘‍ Regent Square Theater Tuesday. It will screen everything ranging from the latest iteration of the festival‘‍s annual montage of exercise videos to an instructional tape on “How to Have Cybersex on the Internet” — with commentary from the co-hosts, of course.

Mr. Prueher said the two friends’‍ fascination with so-called “found footage” was born out of “mainly boredom.” He and Mr. Pickett grew up together in a small Wisconsin town and during their high school years they spent time in thrift stores, collecting and listening to home videos and answering machine tapes.

“This was, like, the early ‘‍90s, and people were already realizing how disposable video tapes were,” Mr. Prueher said. As a result, they found exercise videos, training videos for different companies, videos made for children, etc. They began to hold screenings for friends — scaled-down versions of the festival that they now lead.

Mr. Prueher said they began to sense that these videos would have wider appeal. Yes, they‘‍re very funny — especially with the two friends’‍ commentary — but Mr. Prueher said people also enjoyed them because most cannot be found online.

These videos were meant to be watched on a living room television, not on an online streaming service, or the big screen, Mr. Prueher said.

Ten years ago, the two men staged the show for the first time in New York City, not intending for it to spin off into a full-fledged tour. But the show was a hit and received positive reviews in publications such as The Village Voice, and denizens of other cities began to reach out to them. Thus, the festival became an annual tour.

“It was the right time. People were ready to look back at the VHS and laugh,” Mr. Prueher said. “YouTube was about to hit. It was in the air.”

The men also visit thrift shops in each of the cities they travel to, continuing their childhood tradition and amassing new videos for the next year‘‍s shows. Although the reaction to the festival in each city has generally been the same — positive across the country and even abroad — what has varied is the type of videos they find in thrift stores.

In big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the men have found success by watching public access footage. In the Midwest, they often strike gold with company training videos. And the standout videos of the South tend to be religiously tinged. Although Mr. Prueher said nothing of note was found last year in Pittsburgh, he is hopeful that this year, with more time in the city, something will turn up.

Gary Kaboly, the director of exhibitions at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, said that last year’‍s showcase was a “polished, wonderfully funny performance” featuring “gems of discovery.” He recalls that many of the more than 200 audience members often stood up and applauded at some of the festival‘‍s most interesting selections.

On why the videos find such wide appeal, Mr. Kaboly said he believes that audience members, most of whom were on the younger side last year, found it difficult to comprehend that the performers in the videos could be so technically and socially awkward. In the modern age, it is difficult to imagine anything short of professional.

Still, he emphasized that the festival is not mean-spirited, and he praised the co-hosts for their “compassionate commentary.”

Some of Mr. Prueher’‍s favorites this year include exercise videos called “Tiger Moves” and “Butt Camp,” an early regional home shopping channel clip in which the two hosts are “so entertainingly bumbling” and the cybersex instructional video, which Mr. Prueher deemed “too sexy to be informational but not sexy enough to actually do the trick.”

The Found Footage Festival will screen at the Regent Square Theater at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are being sold on the festival‘‍s website (foundfootagefest.com), with any remaining seats being sold at the door. The material is intended for adults only.

Wesley Yiin: wyiin@post-gazette.com.


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