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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look33.33%
Average: 4.76%
Pretty Bad33.33%
Total Crap: 14.29%

2 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Reel Paradise
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by Chris Parry

"Less documentary, more reality show, but still a compelling flick to watch."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: To indie film geeks, Jon Pierson is God. The man who propelled the 90's indie film movement forward with his work on the Independent Film Channel, and with the breakthrough book Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes, has always been the kind of dude that an aspiring filmmaker wants to know. He's not only an encyclopedia of film knowledge, and he's not just a guy who clearly loves film more than just about anything, but he's also a heck of a nice guy who enjoys imparting his knowledge on people who share his loves in life. When Jon Pierson befriended Kevin Smith, it was to Smith's ongoing benefit. When he explored Spike Lee's work in detail, he did so from a position of comradery, as they were fighting the same eternal fight to make great, original cinema happen. So when a segment on Pierson's Split Screen TV show took him to the most remote cinema on the planet, a little one-screen shack on a tiny island in Fiji, where he and a filmmaker chose to see what would happen when they showed the locals the indie classic American Movie, it was almost a given that he'd be back one day. And boy howdy, was he.

Pierson is a freak, but he's my kinda freak. Bored with life as a New York indie film guru, Pierson convinced his family to pack their bags and move to Fiji for a year, where he took over what he calls the most remote cinema in the world, and offered free movies to the locals. There was no catch - they didn't have to become Christians or work the banana plantation to qualify. Pierson simply wanted to show movies to people who would normally be unable to access or afford them. At his own expense.

Along for the journey were his wife Janet, and their teenage children, daughter Georgia, and son Wyatt, and when the cameras catch up to them, they're well and truly a part of the Fiji lifestyle. The kids go to a school run by the local church, Janet spends her days on the internet staying in touch with home, and Jon lives high on the hog as the town movie maven, spending hours every day wondering where his projectionist is, and whether anyone will show up for J-Lo's movie masterpiece, Enough. But life is not all paradise and maid service, as a series of home break-ins soon points out. While the Pierson's are away at the movies, their home is raided and everything valuable is stolen. A series of odd messages on their answering machine lead them to suspect their hard-drinking Australian landlord may be involved, and his late night drunken debate with them about how he's handled the issue is a comedic masterpiece, even if he didn't mean it that way.

Meanwhile, Georgia is discovering the local male population while Wyatt is the hub of a group of half a dozen local kids who descend on his home each afternoon and run rampant. Janet tries to hold everything together and Jon goes just a little psychotic when everything starts to fall down around them.

What's that you say - sounds like a reality TV show? Well, it sure as heck does, and it feels like one too. In the end, Reel Paradise is not the kind of documentary that you look to for social change, but rather a snapshot of one family going through a moment in time where nothing is quite as it should be. Sure, the setting is idyllic, but the point here is that no matter where you are in the world, human nature remains the same. You give something away for free, people want to take more. You let the kids take a long leash, they'll yank it all the harder. And when you really need a cop, you get the laziest lawman this side of Bora Bora.

Produced by Kevin Smith's View Askew Productions, Reel Paradise has all the feel of a labor of love - about a labor of love. It's funny, heartfelt, gripping, dramatic, beautiful and real, and though the Pierson's have made it clear that they don't particularly like the way the film was cut together to make them look, you've got to credit the family's senses of humor, adventure and sheer love of cinema for the fact that they stand by it regardless as a piece of cinema that is worthy of admission price. And it is.

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originally posted: 03/22/05 13:18:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/06/06 tatum Asshole American family bitches for 2 hrs--why was this made?? 1 stars
4/06/05 Nancy Greider Self Promotional reality show but not a film 2 stars
4/06/05 simone exploitative and arrogant-- a waste of money and time 1 stars
4/05/05 mark richards amazingly self-indulgent and over-produced 1 stars
3/16/05 bp so much fun 5 stars
2/27/05 Anita Prentice Excellent film; moving look at family dynamics in two very different cultures 5 stars
2/01/05 Kris Funny and interesting 4 stars
1/22/05 pineapple princess 15 minutes of too much fame for a drama-king and his family 3 stars
1/22/05 jojo Very funny and involving 5 stars
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  17-Aug-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006



Directed by
  Steve James

Written by

  Georgia Pierson
  Janet Pierson
  John Pierson
  Wyatt Pierson

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