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27 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

The Ugly Americans...

Author: hgjordan from United States
11 July 2006

I viewed this based on, frankly, I can't remember what, but what I came away with was a vision of Americans as much of the world sees us, self-absorbed, selfish, completely unaffected by trampling on the rest of the world with what we think is "right for them"...John Pierson, his wife and children are some of the most abrasive, annoying and clueless characters to ever hit the screen, and all we get from their presence on Fiji is their "Manifest Destiny" take on things, that if it's good for us, then hell, it's good for everybody. They bring the worst of Western values to what may be in the middle of paradise but what is, in reality, a third world country, and they mistakenly think, by their mere presence, that they've somehow changed things. This is no "Sullivan's Travels", in which the filmmaker got the message and made a difference, but rather a grating examination of a dysfunctional family who can do nothing but bicker endlessly...Wyatt's a real prize, one of the few children whom I've felt like decking in my lifetime. Watch at your own risk, these are people you simply love to hate.

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30 out of 46 people found the following review useful:

Disturbing Film

Author: sweetwater1980 from San Mateo, CA
4 January 2006

John Pierson's goal was to immortalize himself on film. Mission accomplished. However, this indie film was quite disturbing on several levels. John and Janet Pierson don't have the first clue on how to be parents. John came across in the film as emotionally immature, self centered, and arrogant. He and Janet were completely out of control as parents. They provided absolutely no guidance, structure, or direction to their children. The children were in control. The parents were not. Georgia, the daughter, was especially obnoxious and disrespectful. Their parental skills were so lacking that it was disturbing to watch.

It was also disturbing to watch John Pierson's arrogance and total disregard for the Fijian people and their culture. He was such an Ugly American. He claims to disdain American culture. Why does he show American movies to the locals? Why does he behave so obnoxiously when he is a guest in another country?

I have no use for Catholicism or the Catholic Church, but the church was a far better influence on the local people than the self absorbed antics of an idiot like John Pierson.

Self promotion at its worst! Indie film-making at its worst!

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

"Things could be worse... she could be a heroin addict turning tricks..."

Author: matthew-kenworthy from United States
13 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This well-made documentary follows the last month of a year long visit of a New York independent film promoter and his family, who are showing free films on an island in Fiji to the local population.

The documentary makers realised that there was far more comedy gold to be mined in following this dysfunctional family than following the progress and impact of the cinema, and so the focus is mainly on the family.

The two spoilt and undisciplined kids, the frequently drunk Aussie landlord (who could have a reality series on his own), aggravating the local Christian mission by deliberately running the films halfway through mass... it amazes me that just one month of filming revealed such a catalogue of disasters.

Some of the more memorable scenes:

Dealing with the robbery of their house is just priceless, from the drunk landlord ("I had to compose myself!"), through the histrionics of the teenage girl as her parents ask who could have stolen the equipment, to the eventual return of the stolen property.

The "Student Film Festival", featuring films from New York students, had me in stitches. The two students turn up with their films and after burning out their projector two times in a row, they start playing their movies to a bemused crowd. The student movies are truly awful (I'll be humming that tune from "Robot Boy" for a while), and the Fijians show their disapproval by walking out of the cinema. The stunned looks on the wannabe directors' faces is priceless.

The clueless Janet, talking about how she was pulled to one side by a local mother and told about how wild her daughter is, made both me and my wife cringe in embarrassment.

A scene where Georgia (the daughter) and John are shooting hoops and the camera shows the large love bites on her neck from her latest boyfriend, with no comment from her father.

All in all a fascinating and memorable documentary - for all the wrong reasons. Watch it and prepare to cringe.

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12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

REELly Irritating people

Author: groggo from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
12 January 2008

I'm not sure if director Steve James set out to show us a glowing example of 'The Ugly Americans,' or not, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he did. And he succeeds spectacularly, down to getting me so irritated that I almost stopped the DVD three different times. As a documentary, it's very well done, but the subject matter is an entirely different story.

This is an examination of a dysfunctional family of four who practise mini-cultural imperialism -- without apparently realizing it -- on the island of Taveuni in Fiji.

Director James allows us to share in the lives of the obnoxious Pierson family, Americans who insist on stereotyping a stereotype. Why are they seemingly incapable of understanding that it's not a good idea to fling themselves into the centre of an entire culture and expect that culture to embrace THEIR values?

The patriarch of this family is John Pierson, an independent film producer with two rotten kids he can't control. His wife Janet is also a film producer with even less control, but she does at least show some sensitivity toward the Fijians.

Their children, surly 13-year-old son Wyatt and obnoxious 16-year-old daughter Georgia (she regularly calls her mother an a**hole), freely scream at or insult their parents, without even a sprinkle of respect. Why the Piersons would allow James's camera to capture their glaring parental inadequacies is surprising, unless they were oblivious to it. While watching this film, the word 'oblivious' becomes a pervasive motif when applied to the parents.

Fiji is a complex and even fragile country divided almost down the middle between indigenous Fijians and Indian-Fijians whose ancestors were brought to the islands by the British as slaves in the 1870s. There have been three military and civilian coups on the islands in the past 20 years alone, something that isn't mentioned in this film.

The indigenous Fijians (Melanesians and Polynesians) are a soft-spoken people with an ancient culture. Enter the well-meaning but goofy Pierson, a guy who thinks it's a great idea to show 'Jackass' to the natives at the community movie theatre he has bought as a kind of experiment. Pierson doesn't seem to understand that 'Jackass' or The Three Stooges might be campy cultural references in America, but they don't necessarily translate the same way in Fiji.

A Fijian film distributor tells Pierson it is not a good idea to show 'Jackass,' but the dime-store impresario insists. Not long after, the Fijian government showed eminently good taste and banned that brainless movie for being too 'gross' and not consistent with Fijian values. I almost applauded when I read that.

At one point in this film, Pierson, wearing a Three Stooges t-shirt, says 'maybe I don't belong here'. An excellent bit of soul-searching.

This worthy film has its faults: it's far too long and often meanders. After almost two hours, I was glad to see the back end of this family. I suspect a lot of Fijians felt the same way.

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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

what price civilization?

Author: postmanwhoalwaysringstwice from usa
2 October 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Reel Paradise" documents the events surrounding the final month of an American family's one year stay on a remote Fujian island. Even though it deals mostly with John Pierson, previously a highly persuasive voice in promoting independent film, and his trek to show the locals free films, what really is exhibited is another example of Americans attempting to impose their culture onto another.

The film presents a very interesting view of film as an art form, and the film comedy as somewhat of a universal language. We were offered several opportunities to watch a myriad of films with the locals, who went wild over low brow comedy but remained as perplexed with student films as many in every population.

It's a fascinating documentary that deals not only with John's activities surrounding the theater, but it also follows the lives of his wife and two children who seem to get more from the experience in the end, as they build relationships. Sadly, John's vision seemed so singular that he went to the island to accomplish one goal, and that's the only thing he really accomplished. One almost feels that he missed the point entirely of what can be gained from the population of the island. He knew what he offered, but he seemed mostly like he was just herding the proverbial cattle into his theater and getting frustrated with the local help.

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22 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

Village Idiot

Author: pacificheights94115 from Pacific Heights
6 January 2006

John Pierson imposed himself, his wife, and his two children on the natives of a remote island in Fiji. The island could have used resources for education and health care. John Pierson "contributed" by showing movies to the island people. He didn't even know how to use the projector. He was just present.

He showed loathing for one positive outlet the children on the island had, their school.

He had no regard for the Fijian people, their culture, or their future. He imported the very worst in American culture (extremely poor parental guidance, instruction, discipline, structure). He was loud, boorish, and obnoxious in his host country.

The documentary has no point. It is meant to be funny, but it just shows a selfish idiot who imposes himself on people who didn't ask him to come. He made a fool of himself, but at least he starred in his own documentary.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Layers of self-absorption

Author: mediadave from San Francisco, CA
7 April 2008

I've been on a documentary jag recently and I've seen a lot of them, across a wide range of production value and personal interest.

I ran across REEL PARADISE and found it REEL HARD TO WATCH. Like sitting next to a really annoying family at a restaurant, I found myself listening in on the conversation and being oddly fascinated with the inanity but ultimately wondering why I wasted my time.

You know the gist of the story--indie film guy takes his family to Fiji to show free movies at the local theater. You might think there'd be much to discuss about whether it's a good idea to bring American film into rural Fijian culture in this way, but the way they went about it is so obviously wrong-headed that it isn't discussable at all.

OK, it's one thing for the Pierson family (including two of the most poorly parented teens you can imagine) to be self-absorbed while immersed in a meaningless project in Fiji. It's another thing to shoot a documentary on it. Perhaps that's where it should have ended. But to have edited the footage and released this to the world is the height of self-absorption on the part of the filmmakers.

I see no redeeming qualities in the people, the project, nor the film.

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10 out of 16 people found the following review useful:


Author: Scott SHultis (imdb-448) from United States
18 November 2007

We rented Reel Paradise anticipating a look into the trials of running a movie theater in a remote location, and dealing with cultural and language challenges. Evidently there weren't enough trials to fill the film, so the trials of being urban Americans in a non-urban culture filled in the gaps.

It was embarrassing to watch the teenage Fijian girl tell the camera how it's strange to watch the American girl talk to her parents. "We don't... talk like that". The tattooed and pierced American 16 year old did what and who she wanted. Not terribly related to running a theater, and not terribly interesting.

John proved to be rude and condescending to the Fijians, as well as his landlord. He insulted the school and church on the island, and showed the movies half way through the local mass, saying, they're going to have to make a choice.

As a fan of documentaries, and the new infotainment from Michael Moore and others, I was looking forward to a good independent film. What we got was an unfortunate display of how Americans act away from home, and why so many people around the world don't like us.

One of the few DVD's we have ever turned off before finishing.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Amusing, but not a "Stevie" or "Hoop Dreams"

Author: robototron from BKLYN
11 February 2006

This movie is well made. It's amusing. It is an interesting portrait of families, cultures, and their various clashes as well has harmonies. It has a bit of an arc to it - enough to keep it going.

But this is no "Stevie" and it's no "Hoop Dreams," either. The true drama and tension and weight simply isn't there. What we have here is a wealthy and successful family attempting a sort of experiment. Yeah, it's meaningful; yeah, there are lessons to be learned; yeah, you care what happens. But it's not moving or powerful.

Then again, let it be a testament to Steve James and how he skilled he is that he can take a REALLY scant subject like this and spin it into a doco worth watching. Still, I'd prefer it if he returned to the more weighty subjects

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5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

..."as close to Fiji you'll ever get".

Author: billymwilcox from United States
12 February 2006

I fell in love with Fiji several years ago and return every June to detox from America. Fiji represents amazing incongruencies that push the visitor to the edge. You have unspeakable beauty and isolation in such a remote location but it is also a third world country that the British, of course, left in bad shape in the 1970's. Reel Paradise and its cast capture the contradictions that are ever present--down to the detail. And this is coming from someone who intimately knows Fijians and the culture. In fact, in many ways, Reel Paradise could be my story. The first time I arrived in Fiji my life was in complete transition. So I was completely open to all the joys and problems that come with Fiji. I experienced many of the misadventures, close friendships and odd occurrences that the Pearson's endured. This movie brilliantly captures the emotional struggles associated with painful choices and growth. I am loath to use pop psychology in my daily lexicon but I am sure the Pearson's did not realize they were indeed providing film viewers with a typical family's adjustment to life and all of its meltdowns. But with a twist. It isn't in some horrid American suburb but in a place so far away that most of its peoples were still living in bures only 40 years ago. This is why Reel Paradise is so special. I remember so vividly the first time I saw the star of the movie: the movie house itself. I was completely dumbfounded by such an odd sight. What was the story behind this old crumbling relic just beyond the international dateline? In fact the cinema was hardly in a village at all on an island far from Fiji's main island. It conjured up images of grey gardens --albeit one with kava, crime and conflicted relationships. Please experience Reel Paradise and know that this is as real as one may ever get to Fiji.

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