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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: October 9, 2017

Despite dwindling VHS supply, this year’s Found Footage Festival is just as freaky

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Joe Pickett, left, and Nick Prueher introduce a found video clip at the Found Footage Festival.

Joe Pickett, left, and Nick Prueher introduce a found video clip at the Found Footage Festival.

As the VHS era recedes ever further into the past, you’d think it’d be harder for the intrepid video archaeologists of the Found Footage Festival to put together their annual traveling exhibition of truly bananas, only-on-video lowlights. After all, the major studios essentially got out of the VHS business in 2005 (fun fact: the last big studio movie to get the VHS treatment was David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence”), leaving festival mavens Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett faced with an ever-dwindling supply of the grainy, weird and wonderful to root through in all the thrift stores of the land.

Watch the trailer for this year’s Found Footage Festival:

Luckily, Prueher and Pickett remain undaunted, bringing the eighth annual Found Footage Festival to Portland’s Space Gallery for two shows Friday. Both Prueher (late of David Letterman’s CBS show) and Pickett (of The Onion) know how to bring the funny and have turned this yearly video scavenger hunt into a can’t-miss evening of jaw-droppingly strange and hilarious clips from the days when everyone had a video camera and, thankfully for us, used it with little to no expertise, sense or, in many cases, rudimentary presentation skills. I talked with Prueher about this year’s show and the challenges of keeping the festival going when there’s less footage to be found.

So after eight years, is there still enough VHS insanity out there to keep you and Joe working?

Well, this is our full-time job, so, yeah. Joe and I have been making these two-minute segments for the truTV sketch show “Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack,” where we package some of our best stuff, but we’re still going strong. We just moved to a bigger office, since we needed the storage space for our 8,000 or so tapes — and those are just the keepers.

Is it more difficult to come across tapes you haven’t seen before?

It is. For one thing, a lot of thrift shops don’t even accept VHS donations any more. It’s a supply-and-demand thing, so a lot of them are just ending up in landfills, which is a frightening thing for us. But our goal is to find every video ever produced, and we know there’s so much great stuff we haven’t seen yet. But, yes, we have had to get more creative.

How so?

Well, we just came back from a tour in Australia and cleared two boxes of VHS through customs. We played the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and brought back stuff from Scotland and England, so we’re casting a wider net. Plus, we’ve got a couple of amazing sources for parts of this year’s show. First off, we’ve inherited David Letterman’s video collection. For five years on his old show in the late ’80s, he did a segment that’s pretty similar to what we do now called “Dave’s Video Collection,” where he’d show a weird 10-second video clip and tell a joke. Stuff like a guide to Italian hand gestures or ferrets giving birth or nude cigar smoking. When Dave retired a few years ago, a friend at the show told me these things were just going in the dumpster, so we drove over and loaded up as much as we could. This year’s show cuts together some of our favorite highlights.

Found Footage Festival hosts Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher got booked on three local morning news shows by claiming to be a strongman duo called Chop & Steele.

Found Footage Festival hosts Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher got booked on three local morning news shows by claiming to be a strongman duo called Chop & Steele.

And the other secret stash?

Well, that’s sort of a long story. Joe and I get bored on the road. We do these morning show appearances, and these shows are so ridiculous, these ostensible news organizations. So we sent out a press release claiming to be “Chop and Steele,” this strongman duo who promote unity through strength. We claimed to have won “America’s Got Talent,” which would take a simple Google search to debunk, but we kept getting booked, and we’d do these stupid things like lifting jugs of gravy and snapping twigs. Well, we got sued by the parent company of one of these stations for “fraud and conspiracy,” and it’s become this pretty important First Amendment case, which is equal parts terrifying and hilarious. We’re going to win, but it’s put us about $80,000 in the hole. (The pair has a GoFundMe page to help with their legal costs that’s raised almost $25,000 at press time: gofundme.com/chopandsteele.) Anyway, at one of these stations in Fargo, North Dakota, this guy who’d worked there for 20 years as an editor, and he hated his job, one way he kept sane was to compile two decades’ worth of bloopers from this hapless news team and, since he was retiring, he asked if we’d want to have them. It was like Christmas came early. They’re what opens this year’s show — you can actually watch the news team get worse over 20 years.

Former satanist John Anderson eats a lightbulb and washes it down with water to prove something in the 1989 video "New Age Miracles."

Former satanist John Anderson eats a lightbulb and washes it down with water to prove something in the 1989 video “New Age Miracles.”

Other than that, you must have another favorite you can’t wait for people to see.

Yup. There’s this tape called “New Age Miracles,” where this former Satanic high priest tries to dissuade people from joining New Age cults. He does this by gathering a room full of people who clearly do not want to be there and exposing the sort of parlor tricks he says that those cults use to lure you in, and the whole thing is so entertaining it almost makes you want to join. The guy — who looks like if Jim Henson had a Satanic brother — looks like he’s staring into your soul, and it’s two and a half very strange minutes that is my personal favorite.


The eighth annual Found Footage Festival returns to Space Gallery for two shows on Friday at 6:45 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door and are well worth it to see Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett introduce some of the flat-out weirdest stuff you’ll ever see in your life.


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

STATE THEATRE
Friday, Oct. 13: “Damnationland.” The annual all-Maine, all-terrifying move institution returns, as this anthology of short horror, suspense and dark drama films once again gathers together some of Maine’s finest filmmakers to show their stuff – and scare the stuff out of you. Look for additional screenings in the weeks to come at damnationland.com.

UNIVERSITY OF NEW ENGLAND (BIDDEFORD)
Facebook: Films By Huey
Monday, Oct 16: “Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul.” This documentary by Portland filmmaker Huey was 13 years in the making, gathering together writers, conservationists, students and visitors to Walden Pond to talk about the enduring legacy of the writer on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth.

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