Friday, September 01, 2006

Reel Paradise

I loved the set up of the 2005 documentary Reel Paradise: a man (John Pierson) who has done a variety of things in the indie film world from producer to TV host (IFC’s Split Screen show) moves to a remote village in Fiji (Taveuni) with his wife and two kids and dedicates a year of his life to showing free movies to the locals at a fifty year old movie theatre called 180 Meridian.

Wow, is that an idea that appeals to me and here’s why. I obviously love movies or I wouldn’t be doing CineRobot. Also, I am drawn to the notion of living in isolated, remote locales and the notion of spreading the sheer joy of the “film experience” to people in such a place just really kick starts my dreamer heart.

The 180 Meridian is a ramshackle structure with torn up seats, windows that go open-air, is powered by a generator and utilizes an old, quirky projector. Every screening is an experience and the theatre is packed most of the films shown over the month the documentary was filmed. I wish filming would have taken place over more than a single month as I would have loved to have seen more movies screened at the 180--as it is they get to see all kinds of films from Jackass to Apocalypse Now Redux.

My favorite part of Reel Paradise was how director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Stevie) would focus in on the locals as they watched whatever film was being screened. More often than not—the bits of business and broad physical comedies were especially popular—the audience lapped up the images as if they were starving. It’s magical to me to watch the glowing faces of the crowd as they laugh or concentrate on something flickering in the dusty light of a movie theatre in Fiji. They are caught in a 24 frames per second spell. It’s the same spell I’ve been under my entire life.

The film was probably too long and I could have done with a lot of the family drama that was also filmed—rebellious, bratty sixteen-year-old daughter got old real quick. But, if you are like me and love movies and the whole idea of what they represent, Reel Paradise is a charming documentary about a little movie theatre at the far ends of the earth.

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