Found Footage Festival Comes to Belfast

Curator Nick Prueher talks about dumpster diving for VHS tapes and how he can 'dish it out, but can't take it'

Who are Found Footage and what has it to do with Northern Ireland?

I am Nick Prueher and my co-curator is Joe Pickett. We travel around North America digging up old, discarded VHS tapes at thrift shops and serving up the highlights for people in theatres. We take people on a guided tour of our video collection, which includes exercise videos, training and how-to videos, local television shows and the occasional home movie. After eight years of touring in the U.S., we decided it was high time to bring the show to the United Kingdom, including a stop at the Black Box in Belfast.

Where did you get the idea for Found Footage?

Like most good ideas, the idea sprang from boredom. We were in 9th grade and looking to entertain ourselves in our small hometown when we happened upon a training video in the McDonald's where I worked. Out of curiosity we popped it in the VCR one day and could not believe our eyes.

It was one of the silliest, dumbest, most unintentionally funny things we'd ever seen. So our thought was, 'The world needs to see this!' I stashed the tape in my backpack that night and we had friends over to watch the video, offering our running commentary throughout.

That's essentially what we do now, except we have a lot more tapes.

Where do you get the new tapes?

Thrift shops are our primary source for finding old videos. Sometimes dig them up at car boot sales or at estate sales, where someone has died and their families are selling their stuff.

You just have to keep an ever-vigilant eye out for VHS. I once found a video called 'Bunion Surgery' in the dumpster behind my apartment building.

What is the oddest bit of found footage you have uncovered?

It's hard to pick just one, but I'd say a video called 'Something's Happening!' may have ranked among the oddest. It was a tape of a local talk show from Oakland, California, in which the guest, Arthur Bloom, talked all about his belief that the mucous in our mouths was killing us.

His solution was to spray grape juice in his mouth with a Windex bottle, swish it around, and spit the foamy purple mucous into a coffee filter. Then it gets weirder. He demonstrates how lethal the mucous is by putting the mucous on a brick and burning it with a blowtorch. All the while the host treats this as if it were perfectly normal.

What are you most looking forward to about touring the UK?

This is our first UK tour so we are most looking forward to sharing our favorite VHS finds with new audiences across the pond.

But beyond that, we can't wait to go hunting for more footage in your charity shops. That's a completely untapped market for us! I'm guessing we're uncover some real gems.

Have you made any changes to the Found Footage Festival for the UK tour?

The only changes we made were to eliminate some of the more obscure American TV personalities who put out exercise videos in the 80s and 90s. I don't think anybody overseas will even know who they are.

Apart from that, UK audiences will get the straight, uncut, unfiltered version of the show. The footage is almost entirely from the U.S., so there'll be plenty of opportunities to laugh at Americans.

Has anyone ever objected to you using their footage or come forward to admit it's them on screen?

We always make an effort to track down the unintentional stars of our favorite found videos. So far, without fail, they've been flattered by the attention. Other times, the stars of the videos track us down.

We were doing a show in Minneapolis last year and a man with a mustache came up to us afterward. He said, 'Do you recognize me?'

It took us a second but then it hit us. He was the guy who got his hand caught in a tablesaw in this workplace safety video we'd found! For us, that was like meeting Tom Cruise. We gave him a big hug and got our pictures taken with him, it was a memorable night.

Is there any footage of either of you out there you wouldn't want people to find?

Unfortunately, yes. There's a video of Joe [Pickett] wearing a karate uniform and showing off his moves for his family on a Christmas morning when he was about 11. He's wearing these big socks that flop every time he does a kick.

I've tried to pry this tape away from Joe's parents for years, but he's trained them not to let it out of their sight.

I wasn't so lucky. When I was about 12, I made a music video with my sister to the Will Smith song 'Parents Just Don't Understand'. I was a fat kid, my voice hadn't changed yet, and I was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and giant sunglasses.

It's a perfect storm of embarrassment.

One day I was watching our local TV channel with some friends and that footage came on the screen. I was mortified. Joe had gone down to the station and convinced them to play the tape over the air. I drove there immediately, hit eject on the VCR, and smashed the tape with a hammer.

So essentially, we can dish it out but we can't take it!

After the UK tour, do you have any else planned?

We just published a book called VHS. It is a collection of 300 of our greatest VHS covers bound intp one handsome compendium. We think it is very suitable for toilet reading.

We're also working on a TV show based on the Found Footage Festival. Plus, we on our most ambitious tour to date, playing all 50 states in the U.S., a bunch of cities in Canada, and Europe.

Our main goal is to rescue all the good VHS before it ends up in a landfill and is lost for ages.

Found Footage will be at the Black Box in Belfast on Tuesday, July 10