August 17, 2005
by Kent Turner
Former indie film representative and author John Pierson (Spike, Mike,
Slackers & Dykes) takes his family to the Southwest Pacific island of
Taveuni to run a movie theater in one of the most remote corners of the
world. With icons Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny painted on its outside wall,
the aptly-named 180 Meridian Cinema sits on the International Date Line.
Besides charging no admission, Pierson draws the local population into its
288 seats by carefully programming according to their taste: "two Hot
Chicks for every Rabbit-Proof Fence, if not three," according to
Pierson. One night it's Jackass (hugely popular judging from the
peels of laughter); the next, Apocalypse Now Redux. Also going over like
gangbusters is Buster Keaton's silent classic comedy Steamboat Bill, Jr.,
which makes one tempted to jump on the next plane.
The documentary covers the last emotional and action-packed month of the family's stay. The
misfortunes that fall upon the house of Pierson are almost staggering:
computer equipment worth thousands of dollars is stolen from their home;
Pierson is stricken with the potentially deadly dengue fever while his
teenage daughter is out late running around with teenage boys (and at one
point sports golf-ball-size hickeys). And that's just at home. In the dusty
theatre, two projectionists don't show up - they're too drunk to work.
But the show must go on: another projectionist arrives the
next night - only to project the movie upside down.
Shot on video, Reel Paradise would certainly appeal to the film buff,
but its attraction really lies with the engrossing profile of
this family living on its own Mosquito Coast. It's all in the casting: the
imperious, aggravated paterfamilias; the peacemaker mother; the
confrontational daughter; and the observant 13-year-old Wyatt, who takes
after his father more than he probably realizes - he already has an astute
sense of what will prove successful and why. Although he's not completely
right - the pensive Apocalypse Now Redux isn't a complete bomb. Having worked for
nearly 30 years in the independent film sector, both parents are camera
savvy. Janet Pierson disarmingly confides to the camera, "I'm a parent, but
I don't feel like I have the instincts for it." But the same can't be said
for her 16-year-old daughter. Janet isn't far off the mark when she
accuses the rebellious Georgia of acting for the camera.
Given their status, the community accepts the Americans, except for some
grumbling and rumor mongering. Before their departure, they're feted to a
heartfelt sendoff (like the Piersons themselves, the film takes its time
saying good-bye). But sadly, after providing a slew of films and a
social scene, once the Piersons return to the US, the Meridian's doors
shut, closed to business.