Reel Paradise

Director: Steve James

Institute History

  • 2005 Sundance Film Festival


In the shadow of modern film distribution, exhibition, and marketing, it's easy to lose sight of film's elemental quality as a vital connection among people. Steve James's delightful documentary Reel Paradise celebrates that essence, featuring one of cinema's hardest-working acolytes.

Reel Paradise follows famed independent-film maven John Pierson during the final month of a year-long stay in Fiji with his wife Janet and their two kids. There Pierson programs free movies at the 180 Meridian Theater—quite possibly the world's most remote movie house. It's a far-flung adventure, even for the multitalented and accomplished Pierson (producer's rep, author, TV host, exhibitor), but as it unfolds, the sojourn generates uncommon insight into cinema's power to excite, incite, and inspire.

As the Piersons immerse themselves in Fijian culture, making delightful new friends and enduring the occasional hardships that come with third-world deprivation, they screen an array of international, multigenre films to locals who laugh and shout at the rare variety of images. Meanwhile, audience development schemes, technical breakdowns, and clashes with church authorities appear to parallel the history of cinema itself. And in this island paradise, the Pierson family's breakfast-table programming debates complete the picture of a film lover's heaven on earth. James's warm and quirky documentary likewise celebrates the meaningful communion that film can still represent.

— Shannon Kelley

Screening Details


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