BY JEFF HANSON, CONTRIBUTOR
It is never a bad idea for an indie film icon and his
family to get away from it all for a while, find what
could possibly be the most remote movie theater in
the world, and screen free movies for the locals. At
least that's what former Split Screen host John Pierson,
his wife Janet, and their children Georgia and
Wyatt thought. So the four spent a year doing just
that on a small island in Fiji. Seasoned documentarian
Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) joined the
family for the last month of their stay to see just how
good this idea really was. The result is a delightful
look at family, film, and the clash and concord of two
cultures. After a recent screening, James and the
Pierson family joined in an insightful Q&A.
Did you show any films throughout your year that
were culturally relevant?
John: More culturally relevant than Buster Keaton?
There were 75 in the span of time and there was a
pretty wide range. Because Fiji was a British Colony,
there were a lot of British colonial films as well. But
I'm not apologizing for showing Jackass...
Can you talk about the trepidation you must feel
about baring the most intimate details of your family
life to strangers through this film?
Janet: I had a lot of thoughts about it before it
actually happened. We knew it was a great experience
and we really wanted to share that. We didn't
necessarily expect the attention to be on us so much
that wasn't really our decision, it was Steve's but
we have an enormous respect for a number of great
documentaries and we've been involved in this all of
our life. It was so great, how could we not be a part
of tradition in a way and kind of give ourselves over
Wyatt: I didn't think anyone was going to want watch
it, so I really didn't care.
John: I thought having the fever was pretty awful,
but being a documentary subject is ten times worse,
even with an extremely talented gentleman like
Steve James holding your lives in his hands.
Steve: I also want to say it is a testament to them
as subjects as a family that they were as candid and
open once this leap was taken. It's not an easy thing
to do for any subject in documentaries. And I think in
some ways it's a bigger challenge for people who are
savvy about film, and have a better sense of what
making that step means as subjects, so I think the
fact that they did that, in light of knowing better, was
How did you approached adopting a storyline, interviewing
your subjects, and editing?
Steve: I think I'm the world's laziest documentary
filmmaker. I do preparation and try to go into any
film project with an idea about what the film can be
about, and what interests me and what would interest
an audience, and this film was no exception in
that regard. But I really do believe what's important
as an experience in making films like this, or any
documentary, is that you go in extremely open to
wherever the story is going to take you. Going in, I
didn't know that this story would focus as much on
the family as it did ...You have to understand and
remember that this film was shot during their last
month in Fiji. So in some ways the film, for good or
for bad or neither, is a captive of that month that I
was there. As much as we tried to sketch in the experience
that they had through interviews and to look
at some of those issues of showing movies in Fiji,
the film is dictated for me by what happened in that
month and it was a very full month.
John: One thing we all agreed on instantly amidst
the more than 120 hours of footage was that every
single minute featuring Andrew the landlord would
have to be in the finished film.
Steve: And I think he's going to be the sequel.
Any plans for a sequel?
John: Give us an idea. Some of us might go.
How did the Fijians react to the camera following
them around. Did you run into any problems?
Steve: They were terrifically open with us. I attribute
that pretty much completely to the fact that the
Pierson's had been there for a year and had become
a part of that community. If we were okay with the
Pierson's, we were going to be okay with them. I
think that's what was crucial.
Georgia: They made fun of [the cameras]. It was really
different. When the cameras weren't there they
hung out a lot more, and there weren't [night] lights
in front of us either.
Steve: We saw some of that in the footage too. That's
why I put that one little piece in, the piece where Gopal,
[the husband of the Pierson's cook,] goes home
and says "they want us to do what we normally do".
He's referencing us and there were a lot of moments
like that in the footage. I didn't put them all in but we
tried to suggest it at least a little bit.
Wyatt, do you still hate independent cinema?
John, ever think about having a special private
screening for your Catholic friends of Dogma?
John: I have got to tell you again that [the Church's]
objections by and large were not really about specific
content of films, partly because there was a lot
of confusion about what the themes and meanings of
films really were. You see 8 Mile and you see that it
might be a content issue... But I'm going to segue off
of your question into a further "thank you" to Kevin
Smith - since you brought up Dogma. Not just for
getting this film made, but for getting the whole
project up and enabling us as a family to go and take
over this theater and do the year there. It was Kevin
and all the guys from The Blair Witch Project and
Matt Stone from South Park who really provided the
seed money that got the entire project going in the
first place, and then Kevin of course - way above
and beyond the call of duty - kept going with this
movie as well. I kept asking him "What movie of
yours do you think we should show there?" We could
never quite figure it out, but now that you brought it
up, when the man with the keys goes back, I highly
recommend you start with Dogma.
Will you screen this in Fiji?
Wyatt: Bad idea.
John: There are two Fijians in the audience [tonight]
that we know, that are a part of our family, Kenny
and Dan, and I was of course extremely curious to
know their impressions. It's not a tourist bureau
portion of the country, obviously. So the question is,
how did it feel to them? Can I show this in Fiji?
Kenny: We'll go with you!
John: And Dan?
Dan: It's fine. Just warn people in advance.
Of all the films you showed, what was the biggest
flop and why?
Wyatt: Apocalypse Now Redux. It was too long.
John: I called the other day before we were coming
here. I figured somebody might want an update on
this or that, and learned the following: At the school
and church, they were really, really disappointed that
there would be nothing to do this weekend without
the free movies. And I said, "If we there was, what
would you want to see?" And they said, "That Vin
Diesel film." I said, "Which Vin Diesel film hasn't got
there yet?" "The Chronicles of Riddick." So, again,
the man with the keys? You might want to fill in that
gap later on as well.