Found Footage Festival Returns to Milwaukee

Nov. 23, 2016
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chikfilafff
Still from a Chick-Fil-A training video, part of the Found Footage Festival collection

On Sunday, November 27, the Found Footage Festival returns to Milwaukee as a part of the show’s first tour since 2014. Hosted by FFF founders and curators Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, the Festival features clips from their massive collection of some of the off-beat VHS tapes. Featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, National Public Radio, and in the hit documentary “Winnebago Man,” Pickett and Prueher have spent the last two years gathering material from thrift shops, Goodwills, and rummage sales across the country to prepare for the tour. The FFF features only clips from tapes that Pickett and Prueher actually possess. Little, if any, of the material in the show is available online.      

“In that two years, we’ve found a ton of good stuff.” Prueher told expressmilwaukee.com. Prueher added that the new tour has an unofficial “heaven and hell” theme. “We found a lot of videos about Satanism,” he said. “Even [a video] for cops on how to deal with Satanists hosted by a former Satanist.” In addition to the holy and unholy, the FFF will feature their usual stable of VHS oddities: unfortunate dating service videos, bizarre work-out tapes, industrial films with inexplicable rap sequences, and baffling ultra-niche instructional programs (How to Identify Counterfeit Beanie Babies, for example).

While the tendency might be to mock the production values and participants in these videos, many exhibit a strange kind of earnestness and genuine enthusiasm to them. In building their collection, Pickett and Prueher have come to deeply appreciate the efforts of these filmmakers, even if the end result of their efforts might be a bit cringe-inducing. “It comes from our natural inclination not to be mean-spirited,” Prueher said. “We develop a connection to these tapes, finding them personally. The ones we gravitate towards are the ones that reveal some kind of pathos.” The FFF has also managed to track down many of the people featured in the tapes – mostly famously Winnebago Man Jack Rebney. Without exception, Prueher said, the people have been thrilled with the new attention being paid to their long-lost video cassette appearances. 

Rue McClanahan Cat Care Video from Found Footage Festival on Vimeo.

Golden Girl Rue McClanahan explores the world of cats.

Since the FFF was launched in 2004, thousands of low-grade clips likes those featured in the Festival have made their way onto the internet, many inspiring wide-spread mockery and imitation. This has been a blessing and curse, said Prueher. While it has been frustrating to see their niche go mainstream, it has also raised the profile of the “golden era” of VHS oddities from which they work. “At the beginning, we really had to explain what we were doing to get people to come out,” Prueher said, “Now more people get it.”

The art of procuring tapes has also changed with time. It is getting harder and harder for Pickett and Prueher to find tapes they have not yet seen and many of the thrift shops that were once so fertile with discarded tapes are now refusing to even accept cassettes as donations. Still, the success of the FFF has helped their cause. “Other people are tuned in,” Prueher said, “We get boxes of tapes sent to us about once a week. Just last week, someone mailed us a box of 17 different police training videos.” 

On the FFF website, Pickett and Prueher refer to themselves as “cultural anthropologists” and “curators” of their video tape library of the weird. Asked what all this footage says about humankind, Prueher echoed a sentiment that is as true today as it was during the home video explosion of the 1980s. “We are people who are obsessed with videotaping things,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there with a ton of ambition, even if they don’t have a lot of talent. There’s something sweet and encouraging about that. To me, it is as important to hang on to this footage as it is to restore Citizen Kane.”

The Found Footage Festival will be at the Colectivo Back Room, 2211 N. Prospect Ave, November 27 at 7:00 pm, doors open at 6. Tickets are available here or at the door. 

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