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Festival’s found footage reveals America

BY ERIC SUNDERMANN | JULY 24, 2009 7:15 AM

A way to save lives — fill a spray bottle with grape juice, swish it back in forth in your mouth, spit out the foamy mucus into a coffee filter, and light it on fire. What lives are saved? No one is really sure, but “The Colbert Report” worker Nick Prueher and The Onion writer Joe Pickett knew when they saw this footage on an old VHS tape it was comic gold.

The Found Footage Festival will brings its collection of weird, twisted, and comedic videos to the Picador, 330 E. Washington St., at 10 p.m. today. Admission is $10.

The found video’s subjects typically include employee training, exercise instruction, public access, and even medical instruction.

“The best way to describe it is as a guided tour through the collection of videos we’ve found at thrift stores, garage sales, and other odd places,” Prueher said. “We come out and introduce each clip and explain how and where we’ve found it, and then we make smart-ass remarks when the videos are playing. Then we come out after each clip and give our take on it, whether that’s through a comedic sketch, or a taped bit, or a remark.”

Prueher got this idea in 1991, when he found a custodial-duties tape while working a high-school job at a McDonald’s.

“I just popped it in when I was in the break room, and I could not believe how dumb it was,” he said. “It starts this overly perky crew trainer and this really dim trainee on his first day of the job, and he’s very enthusiastic about cleaning toilets. And this might have just been me, but I definitely noticed some sexual tension between the trainer and trainee, so I was like — the world needs to see this video.”

He immediately showed the tape to childhood friend Pickett, who found it just as entertaining and stupid. Even though the two — who have thousands of videos stashed in their apartments — started collecting for fun in 1991, they didn’t intend on making them public.

“We had people over for dinner and would say, ‘Hey, take a look at our latest find,’ ” Prueher said. “Our friends really got a kick out of it, but we never really thought much about it. Then somebody about five years ago suggested we rent out a theater to see what happens and try to make it into a comedy show.”

The show includes a variety of two- to five-minute-long clips — an exercise video montage, what not to do in the office titled “The Best of Harassment,” or home records of people doing stupid things. Even though the guys are out to get laughs, they also believe they are capturing a slice of history.

“The primary goal is to entertain people, but I think this stuff is worth preserving and hanging on to,” Prueher said. “I think these forgotten, discovered moments from this forgettable footage that wasn’t deemed worthy to hang onto says a lot more about us as a culture than probably the movies on the AFI 100 best films list.”

Prueher hopes people’s curiosity gets the best of them, and they venture out to the show.

“Mucus and coffee filters?” he said. “I’m there, dude.”


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