reelJohn Pierson was disillusioned with the world of independent films. After years working on projects such as Roger & Me, She's Gotta Have It, and The Thin Blue Line, he was dismayed by the increasingly commercial nature of his environment. "Independent" films were becoming less and less so, and featured Hollywood stars with disconcerting frequency. Just when he was at his lowest point, Pierson discovered the 180 Meridian Cinema in Taveuni, Fiji, and it changed his life.

For an IFC documentary, Pierson screened the Three Stooges' short Some More of Samoa for free in the theater, and watched in awe as a native audience (who, on average salaries of $20/month, rarely go to the movies) went completely bonkers over it. Galvanized by the experience, Pierson somehow convinced his wife and two teenage kids to move with him for a year to Taveuni, where he would take over the theater and continue to offer free screenings. (A list of the films he showed can be found here.)

Though he was only present for the final month of the Piersons' stay in Taveuni, Reel Paradise, Steve James' (Hoop Dreams) documentary effectively captures the ups and downs of the experience. Despite endless problems (robberies, the rebellion of his kids, and faulty equipment), his time in Taveuni reawakened Pierson to the power of cinema. Watching audiences become totally engaged with films like Jackass:  The Movie, The Hot Chick and The Scorpion King and sleep through an ill-advised screening of Apocalypse Now Redux reminded him of how important simple entertainment can be.  "It seems like these movies are commercial fodder and beneath you," he said, "but if you saw them with that audience at the Meridian it would change your mind."