Found Footage Festival hosts Nick Prueher (left) and Joe Pickett (right). Photo by Joshua Hertz.
I knew exactly what to expect when I settled into the one-third-full theater with my girl by my side and my beer at the ready, like countless weekdays past. I was ready for the big-screen equivalent of a late night drunken YouTube session—one of those cyber journeys past the Most Popular Videos, deeper than any “weird” or “funny” or “WTF” content tags. I was familiar with the found footage genres: self help videos, workout videos, instructional videos and infomercials. Earlier this year, Utah’s Blair Sterrett and the Lost Media Archive released a found footage collection called “Please Self-Help Me,” and I assumed the Found Footage Festival would show me the same kind of stuff: expertly curated and edited video weirdness from the thrift stores and dumpsters of America. I was unprepared, however, for just how weird things were going to get—I mean, who expects to see a masturbation how-to video, worm sex, and a clip of a man climbing out of a giant foot ulcer in one night?
Before the videos started, a slideshow of stills from various found films and a soundtrack featuring the music of Thee Oh Sees entertained the laid-back audience. Pictures of cats playing guitars in Santa hats and workout instructors frozen in strange positions danced across the screen until, in an explosion of low-budget movie fire that engulfed the screen, Found Footage Festival founders Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett dashed into the spotlight to welcome us to their first ever Salt Lake City stop on the FFF tour. With comedy writing and directing cred from the Late Show with David Letterman and The Onion, these two know funny when they see it. Before they guys did much talking, they introduced a video intro by the A/V Geeks, a somehow-affiliated found footage collective. It starts off with an industrial work-safety video narrated by the country-singin’ Three Finger Joe. He shows how he lost his fingers (they were ground off by a metal grinder) and how you shouldn’t grease a backhoe bucket (unless you want your hand removed) and ends the bloody thing with a song about “shakin’ hands with danger.” Next is a police training video from the ’50s or ’60s featuring a surprisingly graphic depiction of backseat childbirth accompanied by laughable dialogue and bizarre editing that gave me health class flashbacks. Another notable clip was a sex-ed video for mentally handicapped people in which the teacher asks a room full of adults for another word for penis, eliciting triumphant shouts of “PECKER! COCK! PETER! MEAT! JOINT!” and this was only the intro for the Found Footage Festival. The weirdest was yet to come.
Prueher and Pickett stopped the film and gave us some background on the festival, like they do between each video in their collection. The Found Footage Festival, which originated in NYC in 2004, is comprised of a nationwide tour of various US cities. They insist that in eight years of the festival, this year’s footage is the most unsettling yet. I believe them. Here are some of the most hilarious and bizarre found footage collections, some memorable quotes from them, and comments from the curators:
“Magical Rainbow Sponge” – I had seen this before, online. Part infomercial, part depiction of what could happen to Martha Stewart after ingesting LSD and cocaine. Host Dee Gruenig demonstrates the magic of putting ink on a sponge and wiping it on paper. Filled with maniacal laughter, sexual gasps and groans as she makes “rainbow wiggles,” this video is extremely funny, but also kind of sad. Memorable Quote: “Yes! Uhhhhhhgh … Oh!”
“Ferret Fun and Fundamentals” – An instructional video on ferret care that would deter anyone from voluntarily owning a ferret. A woman says that ferrets and cats make great friends as the ferret is shown thrashing around and gnashing at a cat, obviously trying to kill it. The host explains that ferrets have smelly scent glands near their anuses, but that the musk cannot be controlled. Every shot shows the ferret either trying to escape, attacking a person or animal, or just being generally unpleasant. When asked by the FFF hosts, only one Brewvies audience member admitted to owning ferrets at one point. I have owned ferrets, but I stayed silent. Curator Insight: “I’ve watched this enough times to say, ‘Fuck ferrets,’” says Pickett.
“Get Rich Quick” – A collection of financial advice videos filled with nonsensical logic and nonsensical catchphrases. Lots of men behind stately desks. Repeated use of the words “knowledge” and “information.” Before this video, Prueher said that no other genre of video yells at you as much as the financial advice video, and he was correct. Memorable Quotes: “Get rid of your ugly friends” and “I have terrible PMS.”
“Dancing With Frank” – A Los Angeles public access TV show so bizarre that Prueher and Pickett hired a private investigator to track down the man in the video so they could ask him what the deal was (they interviewed him to no avail). Frank Pacholski, clad only in an American flag Speedo and a cat half-mask, dances interpretively in front of a semicircle of confused and often disgusted senior citizens sitting on folding chairs. The uncomfortable and unsettling performance shows Frank regressing from weird dancing to simply slapping his own ass. The second edition of “Dancing With Frank,” however, is the most disturbing—as another group of confused seniors sit around eating plates of food, Frank offers them some salad dressing and then proceeds to dump it over his nearly naked, hairy body. The performance climaxes as Frank stuffs a whole, uncooked chicken down his Speedo and writhes around on the goo-covered floor as looks of fear and anger and sadness wash over the aged spectators’ faces. Why were the seniors there? Why did Frank make this television show? Why the salad dressing and chicken? We will probably never know.
“Exercise Video Montage” – This montage included workout videos for Christians (“Blessercise”), workout videos for children (hosted by scary, grinning JonBenét types) and workout videos for perverts (naked women with fake boobs running on treadmills). My favorite and the most original of the bunch was the workout video made by rapper DMX’s record label, titled “Thug Workout.” There is no studio, no spandex and most definitely no frontin’ in this video. This shit is filmed cinéma vérité style as the host uses the concrete jungle as his gym. Memorable Quote: “I’ma use this muthafuckin’ bench to do my whole muthafuckin’ workout!”
“Hand Made Love” – I figured I was just being a pervert when I jumped to self-pleasure conclusions upon seeing this feature’s title. I was right, though. This was another (or another part of the aforementioned?) very low-budget educational video for mentally handicapped people. Oh, educate it did—in a hands-on way. It featured a slightly scary-looking young man listing euphemisms for masturbation (“jackin’ off,” “playin’ with it”), telling viewers how some people get in the mood (“looking at magazines with sexy people in them”), and then actually demonstrating close-up, in a hand-held camera shot, how to flail the whale. My girlfriend and I expressed very loud verbal displeasure, as did most of the theater crowd. The sister video for mentally handicapped females featured nearly identical shots and dialogue, substituting “pettin’ the pussy” for “jackin’ off.” It was titled “Finger Tips.” Memorable Quote: “If looking at this makes you uncomfortable, you should stop watching now.” Curator Insight: “This looks like a terrorist video.”
There were many more footage collections in the festival, including aliens teaching about stranger danger and a woman petting her possum (literally). To see some of the weirdness for yourself, visit foundfootagefest.com—you can watch select video clips, see upcoming tour dates for other cities, and order a DVD of this year’s collection. Oh, and before I forget, Prueher and Pickett wish everyone in Salt Lake a “very merry Vaginismus”—don’t ask.