Sometime between Arnold Schwarzenegger forcing a woman to fellatiate a carrot in a travelogue film and the outtakes of an RV commercial in which an enraged actor takes to chasing flies I realized the genius of the Found Footage Festival. There is simply nothing as entertaining as the guilty Teutonic pleasure of schadenfreude-delighting in someone’s misery. Now pair that with snooty post-modern aesthetic of praising objet trouvre, or found art for my fellow exclusive anglophiles, and you have the essential fundamentals of the unique Found Footage Festival. In this case the found art is more palatable than an obscure autographed urinal and the subjects of our ridicule could not be more deserving of our derisive laughter.
The Found Footage Festival is 90 tight minutes of true underground cinema. It is also the most impressive catalogue of absurd, hilarious, and disturbing moments ever captured on film. Unlike America’s Funniest Home Video fare this is an adult event with material more challenging and rewarding than cute pets and groin injuries. The hodpoge collection of forgotten videos has a high kitsch quotient comprised of corporate training films, home movies, and forgotten commercials. Many of these gems were procured from dumpster dives, thrift stores, garage sales, and other mischievous means by a passionate group of self proclaimed curators (read: miscreant geniuses).
Two of the curators behind the well travelled festival, Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett, will be in attendance for the Calgary shows. They provide commentary, observations, and even arrange appearances of the unwitting players from these long lost productions. With pedigrees in comedy from work on Science Theatre 3000, Late Show with David Letterman, and The Onion, these men obviously know funny. I had the pleasure to speak to Nick Prueher about his Found Footage phenomenon and he was unabashed in bragging about exercising his voyeuristic tendencies and finding the diamonds in the rough:
“It all started with a McDonald’s training video I’d seen in Wisconsin. Over the years I amassed this collection of stupid videos I’d show my friends. I’d work at a fast food place for a day or two until I got the videos. I even have a friend who works doing video transfers and he saves the best stuff for us. Then we were buying videos at thrift shops and garage sales looking for more material. There is something inexplicably enjoyable about watching unintentionally funny stuff. Watching a corporate training video meant for an employee on break changes everything when you are with three hundred people in a theatre. What started as a hobby we decided to make a comedy show of and we rented out a theatre and popped them together and it was a huge hit. Soon there were offers to take our dog and pony show on the road. It really strikes a nerve in people. We’ve been everywhere from Caesar’s Palace in Vegas to museums in Amsterdam. And you are definitely going to see stuff you haven’t seen before and hopefully laugh until you start crying.”
I agree with Prueher that it is a truly cathartic experience. As a self confessed film snob I can attest to the thrill and satisfaction of watching the raucous festival show. This is a great show. I don’t know why but listening to a misguided public service announcement with Mr. T seems far funnier than anything Will Ferrell has managed to ape for comedy’s sake. As Prueher observed, “There is the American Film Institute dedicated to saving the best in film and we think it is as equally important to save the ignoble moments, the bad, awful stuff, this is film too.” I went expecting simply a fun romp but realized that this is true art that comes from a mundane and utilitarian condition to be elevated by its novel context and comic results. It is a perfect diversion for the cinephile craving some guilty pleasure.
Jean Cocteau observed that cinema could not be a true art form until its means of production were as accessible and affordable as a pen and paper. Although I agree in principal with this noble and egalitarian view The Found Footage Festival has tempered my previously unabated enthusiasm towards railing against elitism in film. Never have I seen a medium so debased, befouled, and ridiculed by well meaning auteurs and actors, and never have I enjoyed laughing at their work so much.
The Found Footage Festival will be playing two shows in Calgary at the One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo on January 20 @ 3:30 and 7:30.