When the Found Footage Festival returns Monday night to Memphis, it will introduce moviegoers to a truly original performer, Frank Pacholski, star of a 1999 program that apparently shocked or at least dumbfounded even the seen-it-all overseers of Los Angeles public access television, who pulled the plug after only two episodes.
“This is one of the strangest clips we’ve ever found,” promises Found Footage Festival honcho Nick Prueher, a former writer with Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Considering that past finds include how-to videos for ventriloquists and their dummies and an “acne rap” video promoting a facial cleanser, Prueher’s enthusiasm means something.
Explains Prueher: “Frank Pacholski was kind of this balding, portly man in his early 40s, and he’s wearing nothing but a Lone Ranger mask and an American flag Speedo, and he’s dancing, somewhat suggestively, to classic popular songs and polka music, to an audience of about seven to 10 elderly people, who look like they don’t want to be there.
“You can’t look away. It’s just a train wreck, basically, and it raises all kinds of questions ...”
Most of these questions remained unanswered even after Prueher and festival co-founder Joe Pickett (a writer for “The Onion”) hired a private investigator to find Pacholski. They discovered that Frank “was still very committed to his, as he called it, ‘art.’”
One of the more entertaining movie events to reach Memphis in recent years, the Found Footage Festival is a film-plus-live-comedy traveling show curated and hosted by Prueher and Pickett, who have transformed a shared obsession into a career.
Past Memphis screenings in 2010 and 2011 sold out, and Indie Memphis executive director Erik Jambor said he expects this year’s program to be similarly successful. Indie Memphis is the local sponsor of the Found Footage events.
The Found Footage Festival began in 2004, before the social media explosion made funny video clips ubiquitous for anyone with access to a desktop or laptop computer. But unlike the current TV series “Tosh.0,” for example, Prueher and Pickett borrow nothing from the Internet: Their “festival” consists entirely of odd and often unintentionally hilarious videos salvaged by Prueher and Pickett from thrift stores, church bazaars, garage sales, mom-and-pop shops and even garbage dumps. The show’s hosts introduce the clips, and provide “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style commentary.
Most of the clips originated on VHS tape, and none of this year’s entirely new program is available on YouTube, Prueher said. The vintage nature of the material ensures that even the haircuts and clothing will amuse; mullets abound.
Despite the competition from “the glut of material online, our attendance has only increased through the years,” Prueher said.
“One of the things you miss when you get a funny link in your inbox is the social aspect of it,” he said. “It’s not the same as gathering in a room with friends.”
Prueher said one of this year’s highlights is a Tennessee product: “Squirrel Time!,” a hunting video hosted by a man “who’s just really into squirrels. It’s about as backwoods Southern as you can get. He has such a drawl it really needs subtitles.”
Prueher said “Squirrel Time!” was discovered “in a church charity shop between Memphis and Nashville.” In fact, he said one of the reasons he and Pickett enjoy returning to Memphis is so they can visit “one of our favorite thrift stores,” the AMVETS location on Elvis Presley Boulevard. “It’s like a mecca. They have no filter for what they put on the shelf. We’ve found home movies, Elvis Presley impersonator instruction tapes, all sorts of hand-labeled religious videos ...”
He said the Found Footage Festival has become so popular that he and Pickett now spend nine months a year on the road. “We’re fully committed to touring around and finding videos.”
FOUND FOOTAGE FESTIVAL
Hosted by Joe Pickett (“The Onion”) and Nick Prueher (“The Colbert Report”), 7:30 p.m. Monday, Studio on the Square, 2105 Court. Tickets $12, $9 for Indie Memphis members. (Due to some adult if comical content, admission is restricted to those 18 and older.)