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Found Footage Fest returns with VHS gold, including a KC find

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Above image credit: Curators Joe Pickett (left) and Nick Prueher introduce a VHS clip at a Found Footage Festival show in Milwaukee. (Photo by Erik Ljung.)

Growing up in a really small town in Wisconsin, Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher found their fun at nearby thrift stores.

“I remember we used to buy answering machines, eject the tapes and listen to people’s incoming and outgoing messages,” Prueher said.

Everything changed for Pickett and Prueher when VHS tapes started showing up at their nearby Goodwill and Salvation Army stores.

Early finds like an educational video starring Mr. T called “Be Somebody … Or Be Somebody’s Fool” awakened them to the comedic gold waiting to be mined from the shelves of tapes.

Decades later, Prueher and Pickett still get their jollies tracking down VHS tapes and the occasional DVD at thrift stores and garage sales across the country.

For the last ten years, the duo has curated the most bizarre and incomprehensible videos into the Found Footage Festival and will share their latest compilation at the Record Bar in Kansas City this Saturday, Nov. 15.

This year’s show will also include a video that they discovered in Kansas City during their last visit.

“It’s a video called ‘Butt Camp,’ so similar to boot camp, but for butts,” Prueher said of the exercise video. “Kansas City should be very proud of ‘Butt Camp.’”

Exercise montages have been a staple of nearly every fest, given that everyone from Angela Lansbury to Barbie has made a workout video.

“Last year we found a video called ‘How to Have Cybersex on the Internet,’ and it was just like when you think you’ve found everything, you find something like that,” Prueher said. “And then it’s just solid gold, and you can’t wait to go show it to people.”

If the thought of a 1997 instructional video about cybersex and an exercise tape devoted to the gluteus maximus makes you cringe, it’s worth taking a more philosophical approach to the schlock that, at one time, was lovingly, magnetically transferred to tape.

“It’s a pretty accurate representation of who we are as a people,” Prueher said. “If you’re just watching the AFI (American Film Institute) Top 100 Films or you’re just looking at Oscar winners, that’s a pretty whitewashed version of history.”

Prueher said that because most of the Found Footage videos are done by amateurs, you see both the misguided ideas and the humanity of the creators.

“Because there is some truth behind it, and there is no pathos behind some of these clips, I think it’s affirming,” Prueher said. “Like we are a very brilliant and stupid people at the same time and that’s all up there on the screen.”

That affirmation is part of what keeps Prueher and Pickett going, 23 years after finding some of their first tapes.

Image of two butts with words "Butt Camp"

Screen grab from the exercise video “Butt Camp,” which the Found Footage Fest discovered in a KC thrift store last year. (Image Courtesy of Nick Prueher)

“At this point, we have no other life skills, and it’s really the thrill of the hunt,” Prueher said. “It’s sort of like we’re a really lame Indiana Jones … A lot of these tapes would be lost forever if we didn’t find, digitize and put them on a screen somewhere.”

Like archaeologists and anthropologists rescuing other artifacts, Prueher and Pickett are in a race against time.

Prueher said that they’ve been talking to thrift store managers who say they are no longer accepting donations of VHS tapes.

“We’ve been lucky enough that people will donate footage to us too,” Prueher said. “If anybody has found anything in the area, I always encourage them to bring it down and add it to the cause.”

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