Adults and teenagers lined up in front of a theater on a Fijian island to watch "Jackass" might seem a bizarre cultural spectacle. But in "Reel Paradise," that's not how indie-film impresario John Pierson sees it. In 2002, the producer (the driving force behind "She's Gotta Have It," "Roger & Me" and many other indie classics) decided, for a year, to operate "the world's most remote cinema." Bringing his wife, Janet, and two children, he took over the 180 Meridian Cinema, a movie house on the island of Taveuni and showed mainstream -- not indie -- American movies to the locals. ("You can look around and pretty much know you can't show 'Girl With a Pearl Earring,' " he quips at one point.)
Director Steve James, co-director of "Hoop Dreams" and "Stevie," who was invited to film the Piersons in the final month of their sojourn, uncovers a terrifically complex story. Pierson's vision to bring culture to a faraway place is sorely tested by the vagaries of life in Fiji, which includes a drunk projectionist, laptops stolen from his home and a hostile rivalry with Christian missionaries for the hearts and minds of the islanders. While he gets increasingly frustrated with theater management ("Don't run!"), his 16-year-old daughter, Georgia, and 13-year-old son, Wyatt, become far more immersed in the culture than either of their parents. What we have, in the end, is not the tale of a noble experiment gone slightly awry but a deeper story about family relationships and cultural differences in the suddenly less-distant Pacific.
-- Desson Thomson