Big Screen: Found Footage Film Festival

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As a teenager in 1991, Nick Prueher had a revelation that started in a break room at the McDonald's where he worked. He found a training video for custodians, watched it, and immediately felt the need to share its unintentional hilarity with his friend Joe Pickett.

"We were like, everyone has to see this, so we'd invite friends over to my parents' living room," Prueher recalled in a recent phone conversation. "If there was nothing going on on a Friday night, we'd pop in Inside and Outside Custodial Duties and make fun of it and have a grand old time.

"We thought, God, if there's something this outlandishly stupid right under our noses, imagine what else is out there?" he continued. "That kind of started the quest to turn up more VHS relics in thrift stores and garage sales and garbage cans and other out-of-the-way places."

Now, Prueher's on the production staff of The Colbert Report, Pickett works for The Onion and they're both on hiatus to bring a more elaborate version of those high school viewing parties to theaters around the country. The third edition of their Found Footage Film Festival comes to the Drexel this Friday night.

The program includes a number of montages around particular themes - frightening children's videos, outlandish televangelists, sexual harassment don'ts - and several stand-alone videos that defy categorization.

Pickett and Prueher offer live, MST3K-style commentary and their own short videos like the mock-public-access show Talkin' Beards, on which guests like Chris Elliot offer old-hand tips on facial grooming techniques.

Over about 15 years, the pair has collected thousands of videos, and Prueher admitted there are many they haven't watched yet. "But when we're putting together a new show, we try to lock ourselves in an apartment and watch as many as we can get through without pushing fast-forward," he said. "There may be some masochism involved, but we're willing to suffer for other people's entertainment."

As for what makes the cut for touring shows and accompanying DVDs, "There's some basic criteria," Prueher explained. "One, it has to be legitimately found. We don't take anything off the internet. These are all physical tapes that either we or somebody else found, because the stories of how they're found are sometimes as interesting as what's on the tape.

"A lot of them come from that golden age of home video, the '80s and '90s, when it was so cheap to produce and there were all these weird, esoteric things showing up," he went on. "These are generally home videos, promotional and industrial videos, stuff that's meant to be watched alone in a living room or conference room, so there's something really entertaining about taking them out of that context and putting them in a theater with 300 people."

They've found a certain magic in videos featuring people whose ambition far outstrips their talents. "Something about that combination is just so entertaining," Prueher said, but he later elaborated, "We don't come at it from a mean-spirited point of view. We genuinely have a great affection for these forgotten pieces of footage that we've turned up."

Asked if he has a current favorite, Prueher mentioned the bizarre, strangely nauseating public-access clip Something's Happening. "That's giving me the most pleasure now. It was sent to us randomly by someone in Denver, with no label, so we just popped it in and had this experience of our jaws dropping. It takes a lot for that to happen with the stuff we watch."

He added that they're always on the lookout for more footage from the cities they visit. "If anyone's found videos around Columbus or there's a great public-access show we need to know about, please bring those finds to the show and tell us about them, because that's how we keep the show going."

Big Screen: Found Footage Film Festival

When: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 24

Where: Drexel Theatre, Bexley