Last week, Nick Prueher was reflecting on the curator’s life. “We’ve had some disappointments,” he said on the phone from New York. “The other day, I went to put my garbage out, and there was a stack of videotapes. I saw one; on the label it said ‘bunion surgery.’ But it was spelled wrong, like ‘onion.’ I thought, oh, this is going to be good. But it was just some show taped off of the Discovery Channel. For the most part, boring is boring.” Prueher’s needs go beyond boring. The Found Footage Festival (www.foundfootagefestival.com), which he began last year with co-curators Geoff Haas and Joe Pickett, was conceived when Prueher first laid eyes on a McDonald’s custodial training video so uninspired that it inspired him.
“We had people over to watch the video,” he recalled. “We’d have commentary. It was just us obsessing over this stupid tape. Which is essentially what we’re doing now, except not in my parents’ living room.”
What he’s doing tonight (Thursday, at 8 p.m.) at the Crest Theatre (1013 K Street) is screening short subjects of assuredly low production value and accidentally high camp value for people who never would have seen them otherwise, which, with cherished irony, is why they want to.
Although a recent Brooklyn engagement drew an enthusiastic crowd of more than 600, Prueher hasn’t developed any illusions. “It’s still so funny to us that people show up,” he said. “It started in a divey East Village bar. Eventually we thought, ‘Let’s bring our collection of stupid videos across the country!’ We’ve been amazed at how it struck a chord.”
But of course Found Footage Festival programming comes from only the best sources—thrift stores, garage sales, the trash—and always accords with Prueher’s exacting curatorial standards. He understands, for example, that a series of maiming workplace accidents, lamely dramatized in the interest of public safety, often yields hilarity. And that the collated commercial outtakes of an irate, foulmouthed Winnebago salesman can synthesize into a blue-streak monologue of such jagged breviloquence that it might have been scripted by David Mamet. Actually, the whole array is weirdly anthropological, like America’s Funniest Home Videos on tainted hallucinogens.
This inaugural Sacramento showing includes an early screen appearance by Arnold Schwarzenegger as himself, “not yet a movie star,” as Prueher put it, “and certainly not a politician,” but still Mr. Universe and somehow a cultural envoy in Rio de Janeiro, where he enjoys an epiphany on America’s behalf: “You know something,” Schwarzenegger says in the video, “after watching the mulattos shake it, I can absolutely understand why Brazil is totally devoted to my favorite body part: the ass.”
“We feature roughly an hour’s worth of footage,” Prueher continued. “That’s about the tolerance. We’re asking people to sit through a lot of dumb stuff, and there’s only so long you can do that.”