NICK PRUEHER and Joe Pickett have spent years of their lives sifting through old VHS tapes, and their touring Found Footage Festival collects videos that are kitschy, strange, and just plain hilarious. With their newest show of impeccably curated VHS gold coming to town this week, I asked co-founder and host Prueher what keeps the fest vital—and funnier than ever.
MERCURY: How have you been able to keep finding these lost treasures, particularly when everything seems to get regurgitated online?
NICK PRUEHER: We started the show before YouTube, so we weren't really sure how it would affect us, but if anything we've found that it's helped us out. There is such a glut of material out there online, most of it not worth watching, so I think people appreciate the role of a curator to help sort through the garbage and serve up just the best stuff. We don't take any footage from the internet—it's all stuff we've found on VHS or some other physical media—and occasionally somebody will send us a link to something good and we'll get jealous that we didn't find it. But for the most part, we like the hunt for videos, digging around at thrift stores and bargain bins, and we welcome the challenge. Part of the reason the show has been able to sustain itself is that we tour around the country for about nine months out of the year, digging around in thrift stores during the day and doing the show at night, so we come home with boxes and boxes of new videos. And now that we've been doing it for eight years or so, people actually donate footage that they've found to this cause. In fact, there's a video in this new show that was given to us in Vancouver last year. It's a masturbation instructional tape called Hand Made Love and we thank our lucky stars every day that that saint in Vancouver dug it out of a dumpster and gave it to us.
It seems to me that the longevity of the Food Footage Festival is because you guys genuinely love these videos and the oddballs that make them.
I totally agree. It really bothers me to see TV shows and websites where the guys are just snarky and dismissive of the footage. That gets old really fast. We've worked hard to find the videos, we've watched them over and over, and we have a genuine affection for the tapes and the people in them. Sure, we are having some fun with the videos and laughing at them, but we always ask ourselves if we'd be comfortable showing them with the subjects in the room. In every case so far, the people we've tracked down and met have been flattered to be part of the show, or at least happy for the attention. In the new program we're bringing to Portland, we found two VHS stars: a public access star named Frank Pacholski and a tai chi expert named Bob Klein. Bob Klein is this very sweet man from Long Island who loved that we found him and put him on the cover of our new DVD. Frank Pacholski was a different story altogether. We flew out to Los Angeles to interview him about his public access show where he danced in a Speedo in front of elderly people, and I think we left with more questions than we arrived with. Whatever bit or performance art he was doing, he was committed to it.
Any favorite Portland video-hunting spots?
We found the Sexy Treadmill Workout at the Bins [the Goodwill outlet in Portland]. It's one of our all-time favorite video-finding spots in the country because they don't sort through anything. We've found home movies in VHS camcorders at the Bins. Last year, we found about a dozen tapes there labeled "Courtroom Evidence." We are looking forward to spending some time there this weekend.