By Jonathan Marlow
John Pierson has been a major mover and shaker in the American independent film movement, particularly in the mid-80s to mid-90s, when he provided crucial support in the early phases of the careers of filmmakers such as Spike Lee, Michael Moore, Errol Morris and Kevin Smith. His book about that era, Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, (briefly reviewed here) has since been updated and re-released as Spike, Mike Reloaded. For four years, he hosted the IFC series, Split Screen, and eventually relocated from the Hudson Valley to Austin. But around that time, too, he got it in his head to take his family to Fiji, run a theater there and show movies for free. Jonathan Marlow talks to John, Janet, Georgia and Wyatt Pierson about their adventure and the film that captures their story, Reel Paradise.
Wyatt, Janet, John and Georgia Pierson
You made them all go to Fiji. Is that basically how it works out? "Let's go to Fiji, let's be there for a year, let's run a theater, let's make a documentary about it." How much of the plan was theirs and how much yours?
John: We were going to go there no matter what.
Janet: The idea was already in the air. There wasn't "making." There was conversation and debate...
Georgia: I don't know why you're the one trying to answer it like you were wanting to go...
Janet: I wasn't forced to go...
Georgia: When you watch the movie, you know that initial scene was filmed before we went and you were obviously being forced to go. Just the way you're talking...
Janet: I don't really remember it very well. It's just one of those things where you believe you're going or you don't believe you're going. You're like, "Oh yeah, apparently we're going to Fiji. I don't know. I don't know if I'm going," or it's like, "Oh great, let's go!"
When you did Split Screen, you were only in Fiji for how long - a week?
John: Yeah, it was a week or eight days. That international dateline thing really confuses you because you arrive two days after you left and you come back and re-live the same day again. It's hard to keep count. I have no idea how many days we were there; it might have been twelve!
Janet: Somewhere between a week and ten days.
John: The premise of the trip, initially, was that we were going to try to go around New Year's Eve for the millennium. For two reasons. First, we wanted to not only go to the world's most remote movie theater but also to show the first movie of the new millennium. We also wanted to fly cheap and we knew everybody was scared to fly on New Year's Eve because all the planes were supposed to come crashing down when the computer systems failed. I figured we could get some dirt cheap tickets anywhere we wanted to go. The problem is that if you leave on New Years Eve to fly to Fiji, you don't arrive until January 2nd! By the way, George Clinton of P-Funk fame was in Fiji for the millennium. They had some big concert up in the field where the international dateline goes through...
Wyatt: Are you serious?
John: George Clinton slept in Wyatt's room in the house! You never knew this? The concert was kind of ill-fated because apparently they borrowed the PA system from the church but it wasn't up to the funk requirements.
Not enough bass in the church speakers?
John: It was a little tinny, from what we heard.
Janet: We all went originally [for Split Screen] and then John went back in August 2001 and he was just going to go back and write a book. When he got there, he found out that the owner was going to shut down the theater and emigrate to New Zealand.
John: Dhansukh Lal, the son of the original owner, who'd been operating it pretty much for the vast majority of those last thirty years.
The 180 Meridian
Janet: "I can't let this happen, this place is too amazing, it's too great. I have to take it over." Okay, so how do you make it work? Then there became this series of discussions between all of us. "How long," you know. There was a dialogue about it.
John: The son wasn't exactly a film booker for his theater. He was kind of a merchant, buying by the pound. "What can I get for thirty dollars? Send it on up in the ferry." You never knew what was going to wash up on the shores of Fiji, what print might show up. I remember he was showing Memento. He's a smart guy but it was utterly, totally confusing even to him. I immediately suggested that he might want to show the reels in reverse order and it might be better for the audience that way. The first trip we took, which was not spelled out in the film, we took Donnie Ward's movie, The Suburbans (starring Will Ferrell and Jennifer Love Hewitt), and Chris Smith's documentary, American Movie which...
Wyatt: Which failed.
People hated it?
Wyatt: They hated it.
Too much talking, eh?
Wyatt: We took out the middle reels. We showed the first and last reels because they hated it so much and then we showed The Stooges and everyone left happy.
John: So it all worked out.
Bookmark/Search this post with: