The Found Footage Festival brings oddball videos to Creative Alliance

The festival's Baltimore debut includes 25th anniversary screening of 'Heavy Metal Parking Lot'

  • A man known only as Dr. Rocco attempts to hypnotize you into being a better lover in a found VHS tape called "Enjoying Love Making Through Hypnosis," which will be shown at the Found Film Festival.
A man known only as Dr. Rocco attempts to hypnotize you into being… (Handout photo, Baltimore…)
March 31, 2011|By Michael Sragow, The Baltimore Sun

Feeling really lonely? Not wistful-lonely or there's-no-action lonely, but forlorn and just plain friendless? Hang on a little bit longer. Count the days to Thursday and the hours to 8 p.m. Then head over to the Creative Alliance for the Baltimore premiere of the Found Footage Festival.

Festival curators and hosts Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett bring a modified "Wayne's World" vibe of basement rec-room entertainment into the hip art spaces of the current millennium. Their moveable feast of camp and kitsch began in 1991, when Prueher was a high school freshman in Stoughton, Wis., working part time at McDonald's. There, he found a training video with the promising title, "Inside and Outside Custodial Duties." It was so condescending to janitors that Prueher and his pal since sixth grade, Pickett, who shared his precocious sense of irony, thought it was hilarious.

With nothing else to do in Stoughton — "I think great things come out of boredom," Prueher declared this week — the two set forth on a pop-culture quest. They dedicated themselves to poring through garage sales, thrift stores and workplace break rooms. They wanted to locate (and then dub and swap) outrageous, fascinating or unintentionally funny VHS tapes — videos that were never meant to be shown in public for large groups.

Prueher and Pickett both started writing for The Onion shortly after high school. They both went to University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and they've collaborated on many projects, including co-directing the documentary "Dirty Country." But "found footage" is their first, true love. Fifteen years after stumbling on that McDonald's training video, they went public with their findings. Since 2004, they've brought a spirit of subversive show-and-tell into theaters, clubs and saloons across the country.

For their current edition (or "fifth volume"), the first to play in Baltimore, they feature what's sure to be their signature video: "Rent-A-Friend."

That's right — "Rent-A-Friend." In this tape from 1985, an affable fellow asks your name, then scrunches close to the camera, his eyes darting in all directions, as he takes a look around your room. Before long, he's sharing his life with you — way too much of it. You learn about his manipulative siblings. You cringe at the story of the teen crush who never gave him a second look until she signed his yearbook .

On the phone from a Louisiana tour spot, Prueher said, "Yes, 'Rent-A-Friend' has to be seen to be believed. We found it in Chicago, still shrink-wrapped from 1985. It was like finding some long-lost artifact."

Actually, Prueher and Pickett didn't believe it even when they saw it.

"The concept was, truly, unbelievable — that people could suspend their disbelief enough to think this stranger onscreen is their friend. We tracked the guy down, and he's agreed to appear with us for two shows in Chicago on April 15. We have to ask him if he ever saw the girl from the yearbook again!"

The Found Footage Festival contains 15 other edited shorts or montages, each bearing similarly bizarre combinations of pseudo-professionalism, tackiness and "profound stupidity." Prueher worked for five years as a researcher for "The Late Show With David Letterman" — where one of his duties was finding embarrassing film or video of celebrity guests. That skill jibed with "The Found Footage Festival." In the fifth edition, a close second to "Rent-A-Friend" — at least in the "profound stupidity" department — is "Linda Blair's 'How to Get Revenge.'" It includes advice on committing personal harassment and petty vandalism as well as a a road map to road rage — if a driver blocks your path, cut him off at the next opportunity. And who's the host for this extravaganza? Yes, that Linda Blair, earning a quick buck long after her glory days in "The Exorcist."

This year's edition of the Found Footage Festival includes a 25th-anniversary screening of "Heavy Metal Parking Lot." Maryland filmmakers Jeff Krulik and John Heyn filmed this legendary video documentary in the parking lot of the Capital Centre before a Judas Priest concert in 1986.

The Found Footage team befriended Krulik, who worked in public-access television — a lucky break, since "public-access TV is one of our best sources of material." So it was natural for Krulik to ask Prueher and Pickett if they'd like to tour this year with "Heavy Metal Parking Lot."

It all fits the droll, cozy ambience of a festival grounded in the principle that there's nothing better in life than swapping VHS dubs among friends.

If you go

The Found Footage Festival comes to Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave., at 8 p.m. Thursday., Tickets are $10. Call 410-276-1651 or go to

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