Trouble in paradise


Survivor meets CINEMA PARADISO in this wonderfully entertaining documentary about a film fanatic's quest to bring Hollywood movies to a remote South Sea island. Well-known on the independent-film circuit as the dedicated producer's rep who once put up the 10 grand needed to get SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT and its director Spike Lee's career off the ground, John Pierson is a film geek's geek. How geeky? Years before penning Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, his memoir recounting the years he spent working behind the scenes with such indie luminaries as Lee, Michael Moore and Richard Linklater, Pierson and his wife-to-be, Janet, not only worked at Manhattan's Film Forum, they tied the knot at the venerable movie mecca (the bride and groom screened Buster Keaton's SEVEN CHANCES at the reception). But it was while shooting an episode of Split Screen, the IFC Channel series Pierson and Janet created, that their lives took a totally unforeseen turn. The topic was the search for the most remote movie house in the world, a quest that ended on the beautiful and tiny Fijian island of Taveuni, where a 50-year-old, 288-seat theater named the 180 Meridian Cinema stands not far from the ocean's edge. Smitten with the idea of running a cinema in such an unlikely locale, Pierson convinced Janet to pack up their two kids, 13-year-old Wyatt and 15-year-old Georgia, and, for one year, trade life in the suburban enclave of Garrison, N.Y., for an adventure in the leafy wilds of Fiji, where Pierson hoped to screen free movies for the local and very poor population. Luckily for us, Pierson took along filmmaker Steve James (HOOP DREAMS), and the end result is a fascinating portrait of a prickly personality whose mad plan to bring X-2, the Three Stooges and everyone's favorite, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE (no artsy-fartsy indie films for Fiji) to the South Seas would have Werner Herzog scrambling for his camera. As weeks turn into months, Pierson finds himself contending with not just an unreliable projector and an even more unreliable projectionist, but a shady Australian landlord, two robberies, dengue fever, angry Christian missionaries and, most daunting of all, a teenage daughter with a few wild oats to sow. While Pierson rants and fumes, the gentler Janet raises interesting questions about the effects JACKASS might have on the impressionable youth of Fiji, and helps turn what might simply have been a fun documentary about a modern-day Swiss Family Robinson into a thoughtful critique on the wholesale exportation of American culture. Now if only reality television were this good. Ken Fox

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