The Found Footage Festival has been around for well over a decade, touring the country with an analog aficionado’s selection of pan-and-scan VHS ephemera. Unlike a lot of underground/bootleg/nostalgia-based shows, which typically depend on raw enthusiasm and audience discomfort, FFF’s productions are clever, tightly edited montages without any distortion or remixing—think of them as a very ADD-friendly approach to surveying the especially goofy bits in your mom’s old workout videos. And even after numerous iterations, this year’s slate of videos is a fun mix of ’80s and ’90s time capsules ranging from satanic panic interviews to ineffective cat training techniques—seasoned with some considerably more upsetting subjects that include, but are not limited to, ferret placentas, pee drinking, and problematic police training videos.
I got a chance to speak with Nick Prueher, who, along with co-host Joe Pickett, has been running FFF since its inception. The duo serves as engaging, excited narrators during FFF’s live shows, which helps leaven some of the more distressing, placenta-centric material. Here are Prueher’s thoughts on what makes FFF so consistently fun and so consistently strange.
On the Found Footage Festival’s curatorial philosophy:
“Our approach is to present these in the way that we’ve always done since we were in high school: have friends over and take them through a guided tour through our video collection. And just from a comedic standpoint, these videos are so weird that you kinda need a straight man. So we’re happy to provide the incredulous straight men to this very weird world of videos we’ve discovered.”
On how the festival has evolved:
“We just take it way too far now. In the first years of doing it, we’d be like, ‘I wonder if we could track down the guy in a Speedo dancing for elderly people,’ and we do a little Google search and, ‘Welp, can’t find them!’ Now we hire a private investigator to help us find them. We’ll hire a detective and we’ll go fly and meet that person. We’ll just go as far as we can to get the backstory, and to get videos that we’ve never seen before. We... have nothing better to do. This is our full-time job.”
On the 200-plus tapes they inherited from The Late Show With David Letterman’s “Dave’s Video Collection” archives:
“[Letterman writer] Steve Young said, “Would you be interested in Dave’s entire video collection?’ They were literally gonna throw [them all] in a dumpster. If nothing else, we’re rescuing videos from landfills, so we jumped at the chance. And even better—which shows you what kind of a guy Steve is—I showed him the montage of all the videos we’ve cut from what he’d given us. And he said, ‘I’ve just remembered, one thing we did in the ’90s was solicit all our local CBS affiliates to send us their worst local commercials. Would you be interested in that as well?’ And we were like, ‘Bring it on!’”
On the challenges of keeping the flame of VHS alive...
“For a long time, we were sort of social pariahs. If you’re dating someone and they come over and you’ve got thousands of VHS tapes in your apartment... it doesn’t really bode well.”
...and on VHS’ current vogue status:
“I love the fact that VHS has had a resurgence. I don’t think it’ll ever be as sexy as like, collecting vinyl. Music is always cooler than movies, right? There’s not going to be VHS groupies any time soon. But it is cool that people are appreciating the bad tracking and the production value of VHS now, and appreciating those imperfections in the same way that people like to hear the hisses and pops in a record collection.”