Movie News & Reviews

Found Footage Festival discovers the lost gems of the VHS age

Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher are the originators of the Found Footage Festival, which will be in Kansas City this weekend.
Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher are the originators of the Found Footage Festival, which will be in Kansas City this weekend.

Last time they were in Kansas City, Found Footage Festival originators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher waded through videos at Half Price Books in Westport, hoping to find another lost gem.

They happened upon “Facercise.”

“In the ’80s and ’90s they were crapping out exercise videos at a furious pace,” Pickett says. “This particular one was about exercising your face so you wouldn’t have to get plastic surgery. You did these hilarious exercises that this woman (a ‘facial exerciser to the stars’) claimed would work.”

That’s one of many unintentionally amusing VHS oddities Pickett and Prueher have unearthed as “curators” of the Found Footage Festival.

They’ll bring the interactive event Saturday to the RecordBar, which is in the same strip mall where they discovered “Facercise.” The curators emcee these touring screenings, providing snarky commentary and fact-finding anecdotes about each selection.

“Every year we have a new harvest of videos we found at thrift stores or garage sales,” Pickett says.

To keep their festival concept pure, they subscribe to three guidelines:

1. The selection must be culled from an actual videotape that was legitimately found.

2. It can’t be a video downloaded off the Internet.

3. It must be material never intended to be shown on a big screen in public.

“Right now is a good time, but we’re starting to see thrift stores not accept VHS tapes anymore,” Pickett says. “A lot of the stores are just trying to get rid of them because nobody is really buying them. I have a feeling in five years they’re all going to be in landfills. But we’ve been collecting for so long that we have a huge storage locker in Queens with 5,000 tapes. I think we’re set for life.”

New clips featured in their 10th anniversary program include a martial arts fitness program called “Tiger Moves,” a 1997 instructional video titled “How to Have Cybersex on the Internet” and, of course, “Facercise.” But the entry Pickett is most proud of is an updated look at “America’s Valuethree Network,” a tape salvaged from a box in a closet in a Wisconsin warehouse.

“It was labeled ‘Sell Sell Sell’ — a 30-minute excerpt from this home shopping show with these two super-obnoxious hosts called John and Johnny,” he recalls. “We fell in love with these guys. We’ve been quoting them for 10 years because these guys are bumbling and making it up as they go along. They’re always dropping things. Anyway, for the 10th anniversary we decided to track them down.”

Pickett found one host selling used cars in Seattle and the other still plugging home shopping in Tampa, Fla.

“We harassed them into having this reunion. We spent way too much money to fly them out for a reunion nobody asked for. During the show, we present the reunion. Then we ask them to sell worthless crap,” he says.

The festival has received plenty of coverage over the years, being featured on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and NPR.

With such notoriety, have they suffered any perilous encounters with the real subjects of these videos?

“Every time we meet somebody, they’re just thrilled their video is playing,” he says.

A filmmaker by trade who lives in New York, Pickett has also teamed with Prueher to author the book “VHS: Absurd, Odd and Ridiculous Relics From the Videotape Era.” The compendium features the pair’s favorite VHS covers, ones where the movies don’t quite live up to the garish hype.

Pickett admits that he has overcome many obstacles to procure his cartridge collection. One holy grail-type tape in particular instigated a great deal of maneuvering.

“I heard that Suncoast Video supposedly had the worst training videos, and one was legendarily bad,” he says. “It was Wayne and Garth teaching you about customer service. It wasn’t actually them, just guys dressed as them.

“I needed to have this, so I filled out an application, interviewed and worked a four-hour shift at Suncoast. I was working my shift and went into the break room, and there was a stack of training videos on top of the TV. I put them in my duffel bag and duplicated them at home. Then I gave the videos back and told them I couldn’t work there anymore.”

The punch line: Faux Wayne and Garth weren’t on the Suncoast tapes.

“But there was their version of Siskel and Ebert giving thumbs up to customer service,” Pickett says. “The Wayne and Garth is still out there somewhere. I’m always looking for it.”

Saturday

The Found Footage Festival will be at 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the RecordBar, 1020 Westport Road. Admission is $10. For more information, go to FoundFootageFest.com.

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