June, 2003. During the final month of their year-long stay in Fiji, indie-film gurus John and Janet Pierson and their two children host a documentary film crew. John's been showing free movies at the 288-seat 180 Meridian Cinema, in remote Natokalan Village on the island of Taveuni. Reality intrudes in paradise: their home is burgled, the local Catholic priest criticizes John's project, their daughter's behavior may be threatening the reputation of her friend, and John's prickly personality follows him. Against this backdrop, the Fijians laugh at the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, and "Jackass: The Movie." John finishes the year with ten movies in ten days: do movies matter? Written by
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If you love movies, and movies about movies, you will love this film
Exhibitionist a review of Reel Paradise By Steve Fesenmaier Nov. 4, 2006 Since I started exhibiting films for a living in fall 1972, about a hundred people have told me that I should make a film about my amazing life, and write an autobiography. Most recently Ken Hechler told me that I should write a book I am helping him write a book about a "Supermarine" and working with Russ Barbour on a two-hour film about him, "Ken Hechler In Search of Justice." Since I write a weekly Graffiti column, and spend most of my free time showing films, or writing about them, or previewing them for one of the several film festivals I program including The WV Jewish Film Festival and The WV Filmmakers Film Festival, I really don't have time. But there is finally a film that in certain ways shows the peculiar life I have led for more than three decades Steve James' film about American indie promoter John Pierson in "Reel Paradise." Pierson met his wife while working at Film Forum in NYC, working for Karen Cooper. Over the years he helped fund Spike Lee's first film, wrote the best book on contemporary American indie films, "Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes," and hosted a cable show," Split Screen." He has spent most of his adult life, as I have, showing films, and promoting them in various ways. He finally decided to take his wife and two teenage children as far from America as he could, finding the 180 Meridian (International Dateline, where the day officially changes) Cinema in the Fiji Islands, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Steve James, who made the sensational "Hoop Dreams" and "Stevie," both world-class biographical films, spent the last month on the island filming Pierson and the amazing life he was leading.
The highlights of the story include tracking down the thief who stole computers, passports, and other items from their home; the problems the two teenagers have living in such a primordial place, and the joys and defeats Pierson experiences while showing free, 35 mm., current films to such an isolated group of people. Films included "Jackass" (because his son suggested it) to "Bend It Like Beckham" to a Buster Keaton film. (He got married at Film Forum and screened a Buster Keaton film as part of his wedding ceremony. My wedding ceremony took place at the Dunbar Public Library after a New Orleans feast and several hours of Les Blank films with him serving as best man and visiting celebrity.) The most interesting part of the film is the brief discussion of the only opposition he faced on the island from the missionary Catholic Church which also ran the "college" where his children attended school. They were against the "free" aspect of the films, thinking that it undermined their teaching that one has to work hard for everything. Pierson had to show the films free since few of the islanders could afford any admission fee.
I wondered why Pierson did not set up some kind of class on film-making at the local high school. I myself have always been involved with young would-be filmmakers, serving on the national board of a group, Cinema Six, whose board included Dr. Wayne Dyer and people at Lucasfilm. Locally, I have been on the board of the local communications dept. at WVSU, the only college in the state with a film school type program, and co-founded the WV International Film Festival, which has an annual student film competition. Perhaps Pierson didn't want to formalize his film program that would discourage adults, etc. from attending.
He was overjoyed introducing and watching the audience, mainly children laugh out loud with joy at the films. I certainly can identify with this feeling since I myself have enjoyed it since 1972, introducing the world's greatest films and filmmakers in person from 1972-78, and here in West Virginia, bringing many of my friends including Les Blank twice here, and many others including William Sloan from MOMA (who has a real MLS in library science and founded the NYPL film program), Linda Duchin from New Yorker Films, Dennis Doros from Milestone Films, Mitchell Block from Direct Cinema, John Hoskyns-Abrahall from Bullfrog Films, Mimi Pickering from Appalshop, and a hundred more.
I don't know how interesting the average film-goer would find this film. Likewise for other recent films about movies like "Cinemania," about NYC film fanatics who live for "competitive movie watching. " I recently saw a great film, "Ticket to Jerusalem" about a Palestinian film exhibitor who loved to show films to children in his house, and even better was "Mine Cine Tupy," a short documentary about a Latin American man who literally created a film theater for children out of parts he found on the street or junkyards. Recently a great documentary on perhaps the single greatest film exhibitor of all time, Henri Langlois, was released "Phantom of the Cinematheque." I recall a film from Australian, "The Picture Show Man," that chronicled the life of an early 1930s era traveling film exhibitor through the Bush. "A Very Curious Girl," a hit French New Wave film, uses a local cine club as the focus of its portrait of a young girl growing up in France in the 1960s.
Since we have more than a century of movies, and people still love them despite the reality of YouTube and the entire web-movie mania sweeping the world, you may find this film worthwhile. If you enjoyed films like Les Blank's "Burden of Dreams" and "Heart of Darkness" about the making of Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," you would enjoy this film.
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