'Reel Paradise'

The life cinematic

STRANGE THINGS TRANSPIRE when creative people get bored. Case in point is the new doc by Steve James that accounts for a year in the life of independent movie producer John Pierson and his family on the island of Taveuni, Fiji. Pierson, who briefly came out from behind the scenes in 1996 when his indie manifesto, Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes, was published, has been below the radar except to those who may have caught the IFC show Split Screen – created by Pierson and wife Janet. Production of that show took the Piersons to Taveuni, where they were enchanted by the island's old movie house, the 180 Meridian Cinema, and the locals' exotic approach to film consumption. Pierson decided to move the family (which also includes Georgia and Wyatt, then 16 and 13, respectively) to the island and show free movies to the Fijians while "blowing up" his teenagers' world in the process. The real drama centers on the Piersons' experiences living as foreigners, coping with the cultural differences separating their lives from the locals', resulting in theft and contention with those who doubt the purity of the Americans' charitable motives (the most notable criticism comes from the Catholic church, which knows a thing or two about questionable missionary pursuits). James has explored the theme of transcending social divisions before, very directly in 2002's Stevie, but Reel Paradise is less heady in that respect, achieving most of its emotional resonance in the crises of parenting a rebellious teenage daughter with cameras rolling. The exploration of what US movies to screen also gets at an interesting debate, with Pierson admittedly distancing himself from his other life in the States. The intensity of his desire to bring Jackass to the theater provides one such example. But the Fijians seemed to get a kick out of it, which is pretty much all Pierson is hoping for. (Rachel Odes)