The MichaelVox Movie Review Weblog
Proudly Spewing Unsolicited Film Opinion Online Since 1996
April 9, 2008
Steve James [Hoop Dreams]
New Yorker John Pierson spends one year screening free movies on a Fijian Island.
Pierson used to have a program on IFC called Split Screen and one of the stories on that show was a trip to the most isolated movie theater on the planet. They picked one that is right smack on the International Dateline in Fiji. The segment had two programmers show up at the same time as a humorous punchline. There was also footage of the islanders enjoying (not really a strong enough word) several Three Stooges shorts.
Pierson took that one-week experience, moved his family to Fiji, and set about writing a book about his experiences showing movies for free to Fijians.
The film works on two levels. One, I have personally thought that if I hit the lottery, I would both exhibit whatever wacky cinema taste I have after purchasing a theater, and buy land on a South Pacific Island. So it fulfills that fantasy that many of us have. Our favorite hobby and a spot in paradise. Check and check.
The film also works on a more serious level. Uninvited Americans are thrust into a culture they know nothing about, bringing with them films which don't mesh with Fijian society. Pierson's family of four and his seemingly drunken Australian landlord are the only white faces we see on the whole island. Shouldn't the Piersons adapt to the islanders and not the other way around?
It doesn't help that Pierson is a complete control freak, used to exhibiting films in indie theaters in New York where the patrons "know the rules."
The film works also as a culture-shock portrait of two teenagers trying to assimilate into an island culture where the concept of time is tenuous at best. The 16 year old daughter thinks nothing of running away, drinking, and showing a bit more of her body than might be safe. The younger boy is cynical. Both children talk back to their parents, who speak with unedited language around them. They are a New York liberal family dropped into a culture with thousand year old traditions, ideas about ownership, and a history of being invaded (by both Catholics and wealthy white men).
I commend the family for allowing the camera to follow them, even when they're not acting as the best ambassadors of America, or even when they are scarcely acting like normal human beings. There is an element of white privilege and the civilizing of "noble savages" that permeates the whole enterprise.
I've been to several different islands in the South Pacific and any business venture I'd choose to start would be welcomed with varying enthusiasm. Raratonga, maybe. Molokai, no way.