The Found Footage Festival Comes to Austin
Traveling showcase of video hilarity screens at the North Door
Some things are better found. Videotapes, for instance. Rather than when it's part of some big studio campaign, sometimes it's better when video documentary is what a person's stumbled upon by chance. Like, at a garage sale. Maybe while rummaging through the back of an abandoned warehouse.
And maybe "better" just means "less polished" or "totally unself-aware" or "dude, that's fucked up."
Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, New York-based curators of the off-kilter, have discovered such treasures many times, and now they're bringing their showcase of odd and hilarious videos to the North Door on Nov. 29. From industrial training videos to forsaken home movies donated to Goodwill, the Found Footage Festival serves 'em up with live commentary and where-are-they-now updates on the people involved. We talked to Prueher to get the flavor of this show.
Austin Chronicle: By now you and Joe are Those Found Footage Guys. Do people ever give you videos they've found?
Nick Prueher: Oh man, that's the best part of doing this show. People show up with duffel bags full of tapes for us at the merch table and we get to dig through and pick out tapes we've never seen before. About once a week, we get a big box of tapes in the mail from people all over the world. It's like Christmas morning! I love that we've inspired other people to keep an eye out for VHS wherever they happen to be. It's kept us going for almost 15 years now.
AC: And David Letterman donated found-footage tapes to the festival?
NP: Well, Dave didn't personally donate the footage. But I was the head researcher on the Late Show for almost five years, and there was a regular segment during my time there called "Dave's Video Collection," where Dave would hold up a funny tape and show a clip from it. When he retired a few years ago, our friends at the show got in touch and said, "Hey, we're going to throw all these tapes away. Do you want them?" We were in a cab to the Ed Sullivan Theater that same day.
AC: Some of the footage is wacky because it's meant to be wacky, right? But most of it's wacky because it's dead-on serious and yet as absurd as Normal American Life can be when recorded by Normal American People or Big Soulless Corporations. Which single tape is the most laugh-out-loud funny?
NP: Let me start off by saying we don't collect any footage that's meant to be wacky. Our number one rule is that our videos have to be unintentionally funny, because we love the earnestness and pathos that sneaks through the cracks of these supposedly professional productions. There's sort of a wide-eyed innocence that's really endearing and so rare in this day and age of the internet. And, for me, Petpourri is the most laugh-out-loud funny tape we've ever found. It's a pet advice call-in show from the Nineties that aired regionally in New York. A pet shop owner named Marc hosts the show, and he brings a bunch of animals like dogs, cats, monkeys, ferrets, [and] birds into a TV studio and puts them on a small countertop. And of course the animals fight with each other, knock things over, fall off the table – it's utter chaos! At one point a cat gets into the iguana cage and there's quite a showdown.
AC: And which single tape do you think is the most culturally important, the most era-defining?
NP: I think almost all the footage we've deemed worthy of hanging onto has some significance: It represents sort of a warts-and-all history of our videotaped culture in a way that the top films of the Eighties and Nineties never could. If I had to pick one video, though, it might be "Carnival in Rio," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's a travel video highlighting what goes on after dark in Rio, and apparently the producers decided to hire a couple of escorts for Mr. Universe-era Schwarzenegger and let him go nuts. And he does! He talks about his love of "the ass," he seductively feeds his date a carrot, and generally gropes every lady he sees. We played this video a lot on the Letterman show when Arnold was running for governor, and what we found was it didn't matter – he was elected for two terms! At the time we found it, it was unfathomable that a serial sexual harasser could get elected to a high office. The Smithsonian should put "Carnival in Rio" behind glass as a warning sign for future generations.
Found Footage Festival @North Door Thu. Nov. 29, 8pm