Reel Paradise

Director: Steve James

I’ve always agreed with the sentiment of Francois Truffaut in the belief that there’s nothing more beautiful than witnessing the faces of audience members as they watch a film with flickers of celluloid dancing in their eyes. It’s this love of experiencing films with others that’s led me to creating both this website as well as a film discussion series at my local library and it’s the same passion that drives many movie buffs including independent film producer John Pierson who is featured in the documentary Reel Paradise by Hoop Dreams filmmaker Steve James. After his early days in the 1980’s screening films with fellow film buff and wife Janet (the two even married in a movie theater and showed a Buster Keaton film at their wedding) and helping to launch the movie careers of innovative directors including Spike Lee, Michael Moore, and Kevin Smith (who produced this film), John Pierson found himself tiring of the indie scene he chronicled in both book form and through a series on the Independent Film Channel that propelled him through the 90’s. When the 00’s hit, John and Janet grew wary of the independent film business and tried to get back to their original love of showing films to audiences with a bold, drastic and challenging decision to move to Fiji for a year and screen free films nightly at the two hundred and eighty eight seat 180 Meridian Cinema in the isolated Natokalan Village on the Fijian island of Taveuni. Packing up their stubborn and fiercely independent minded teenage daughter Georgia and slightly younger son Wyatt, the film crew of Steve James checks back in with the Pierson family in June of 2003 in the final month of their year long experiment as they deal with island politics, their second home burglary, culture clashes, angry rebellions of their children, and the dominant Catholic church that further thrusts the Pierson family into an us verses them dynamic which threatens to go against their initial intention of bringing movies to the people. The film, which first begins as a great film buff adventure quickly evolves into a cultural and sociologically fascinating work as we see the contrasts of the different ways of life on Taveuni island and while it’s a wonderful idea that film lovers can relate to, one does wonder just what was the larger motivation for Pierson. As numerous critics pointed out, it’s admirable to bring movies to the islanders but there is no cause and effect evidenced and one questions just what the intended result was as well as how the family processed their experience after returning back home to the states. All in all, a great documentary sure to spark conversation but I found myself with several questions afterwards and hoping for more follow-up with the Pierson family.