Steve James' latest documentary "Reel Paradise," featuring indie guru John Pierson, his wife Janet, and their two children, will debut theatrically in New York later this month before expanding to theaters in Los Angeles and then other markets. Wellspring is opening the movie at the new IFC Center in Manhattan on August 17th. IFC is close to a deal to handle the cable debut of the doc, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year before screening at SXSW and other festivals this spring and summer.
The Miramax film has followed a rather unique route to theaters since James visited the Pierson family in Fiji where three years ago they ran the small 180 Meridian Cinema offering free screenings for locals in remote Taveuni. At times a theatrical release seemed unlikely given the tumultuous times at Miramax over the past year, with the story unfolding like a chapter from John Pierson's insider guide to indie film "Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes" (recently re-released by Miramax Books as "Spike Mike Reloaded").
Pierson family friends Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier of View Askew executive produced the doc (Pierson repped their debut film "Clerks" more than ten years ago, making a deal with Harvey Weinstein that led to a long-term relationship between the Weinsteins and View Askew); Miramax financed the film but last year the Indiewood company ultimately agreed to sell it off as big changes took place inside the company and the Weinstein brothers announced their departure. Cinetic Media stepped in to broker a deal and at SXSW this year, Wellspring's Marie Therese Guirgis and Ryan Werner saw the film, met with the Piersons, and began pursuing a deal for the movie.
While the final deal was never formally announced due to a contract that is being resolved with Miramax, all the elements for the release are in place, including a website, a publicist pitching press day interviews, bookings in numerous theaters, a New York Times feature yesterday, and a premiere screening and party in Manhattan next week. Yesterday, Miramax confirmed that the pact is close and Wellspring expressed enthusiasm for the pending release.
"We are in final negotiations with Wellspring and we expect a deal to be done before the premiere," explained a Miramax spokesperson Sunday.
"We fell in love with the movie when we saw it at South by Southwest," Marie Therese Guirgis, the Head of Acquisitions for Wellspring, told indieWIRE last night. "It is such an entertaining and well-crafted movie about a family full of passion: for each other and for the movies."
"We feel great about all of Wellspring's tender loving care on the release of 'Reel Paradise' in NY and the rest of America," said John and Janet Pierson is a statement late Sunday. "And maybe, just maybe, it can be the first Wellspring release in Fiji - at the magical 180 Meridian Cinema."
After opening in New York City on August 17th, the film will expand to Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Rafael, Berkeley and Newport Beach in California on September 2nd. Then on the 16th, "Reel Paradise" will debut in Chicago and Seattle, followed later by openings in San Diego (September 23), Austin (September 30), Washington D.C., Cambridge (MA), and St. Louis (October 21), and Detroit (November 6).
A rep for IFC declined comment Friday regarding the cable TV release of "Reel Paradise," despite inside word that a deal is in pending.
"Despite my ready enthusiasm, I had no interest in doing a vanity piece. Thankfully, John and Janet made it clear from the start that this would be my film, and they expected it to be as candid and honest as I could make it," said filmmaker Steve James in a director's statement about the movie published on the film's website. "That's not an easy thing to commit to for any subject of a documentary, let alone ones who are as media-savvy and self-aware as the Piersons. But that is exactly what happened."
The film not only offers the story of a family, but also gives a unique look at the impact of popular American movies on people living in a remote village. Crediting James, John Pierson explained back in March that what he likes about "Reel Paradise" is that it "allows people to enter a world and not necessarily come out feeling exactly the same about it."
"Certainly one of the defining characteristics of 'Reel Paradise' is the honest - sometimes joyous sometimes painful - depiction of their lives in Fiji," added James in his directors statement. "The film is neither a Pollyanna portrait of the Piersons nor, for that matter, of the Fijians. The film shows that life is hard there in differing ways for both the family and locals."