» » Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)

Short summary

Featuring never-before-seen footage, this documentary delivers a startling new look at the Peoples Temple, headed by preacher Jim Jones who, in 1978, led more than 900 members to Guyana, where he orchestrated a mass suicide via tainted punch.
Featuring never-before-seen footage, this documentary delivers a startling new look at the Peoples Temple, headed by preacher Jim Jones who, in 1978, led more than 900 members to Guyana, where he orchestrated a mass suicide via tainted punch.

Trailers "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)"

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Sataxe
    I have heard about the cult "Peoples Temple" before, but I knew little about it. Through large amount of rare footages and in depth interviews of the Peoples Temple survivors and family members of the members of Peoples Temple, the documentary takes a deep look into this cult and tries to find out why 909 people committed "mass murder/suicide" on November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana.

    This film is what a great documentary looks like. It goes beyond the headline and dig deep into the story. I begin to understand whom Jim Jones was. I begin to understand why so many people crossed the racial and social boundaries to come together and even devoted their lives to this cult leader and their "church." Many of the cult followers were struggling with the social injustice and racial discrimination in the 60s and 70s. Jim Jones offered them equality and sense of belonging that the society didn't offer. So Peoples Temple becomes their utopia where they could be so happy and united. Only the sad part is that later some of them realize they were betrayed and they had no way out.

    This is definitely a great documentary I have seen this year and I surely hope it will get an Oscar nomination.
  • comment
    • Author: Coiriel
    This is a sad, chilling documentary about the rise and fall of psychopathic cult leader Jim Jones's People's Temple. Back home in Indiana, Jones had a morbid fascination with death and charismatic religion as early as age 5. He displayed an admirable acceptance of people of color, but he also killed small animals to serve as subjects for death rituals he conducted, a disturbing trait not uncommonly associated with adult personality leanings toward callous violence.

    Untrained in the ministry, he nonetheless started his own church in Indiana - an offshoot of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - while still in his early 20s, later, in 1965, moving it west to a rural commune-like setting in Ukiah, in Northern California, when he was 34, where he also renamed the church People's Temple Full Gospel Church.

    After 9 years, in 1974 he moved the church again, this time to San Francisco, where he ingratiated himself with local politicos like George Moscone and Willie Brown, and, in return for his support of Moscone for Mayor, Jones was appointed to the city's housing commission. By 1977 Jones had the itch to move again, and this time his church bought a large tract of land in the interior of Guyana, in northwestern South America. There a settlement, Jonestown, was rapidly established to permanently house over 1,000 church members. In November, 1978, after receiving complaints that all was not well in Jonestown, that people were being forcibly separated from loved ones back home and more or less held hostage, a California Congressman, Leo Ryan, made a trip to Jonestown to see for himself what was going on.

    Ryan never returned, for he was shot and killed on the aircraft runway at Jonestown by armed stooges of Jones's, on orders to do so because Jones feared that Ryan would bring trouble if allowed to return to the States. Later that same day, November 18, 1978, Jones used his extensive PA system to order all of his supplicants to take a cyanide drink, to escape the misery that would befall Jonestown once authorities came in large numbers, to go on over to the other side, i.e., presumably to Heaven, where they would find peace.

    911 church members died that day, many infants and children given poison by their parents, who then also took the poison drink to create possibly the largest mass suicide in history. Some who did not take poison were, like Rep. Ryan, shot to death. This was also the apparent cause of death for Jones himself. Another 80 members were away on some sort of field trip and were spared.

    This is the fifth and perhaps most unusual of director Stanley Nelson's documentaries, which always concern race and the African-American condition (his prior feature films have taken up black press journalists; Marcus Garvey; Oaks Bluff, a black summer community on Martha's Vineyard; and the musical group Sweet Honey in the Rock).

    Nelson's interest in Jonestown is connected with the fact that a majority of Jones's supplicants were black. Jones pandered to the suffering of poor blacks and whites alike. He also had sex with many women in the church, and even offered to sodomize anyone - female or male - who asked for or wanted this kind of connection to him, and apparently many did.

    Nelson's approach here is intensely personal. He intercuts archival footage - of Jones's life, his activities and various stages in the development of his church - with contemporary interviews of persons who lost loved ones in Guyana. There are no talking heads: no sociologists, no academics who study religious cults, not a single mental health professional to educate us here. Nelson doesn't want us to understand the root causes of this tragedy; he wants us to feel the pain, the grief that this horrible and senseless loss of life wrought, just to feed the craving for power that was obviously Jones's main source of sustenance. It is an agonizing story to witness. My grades: 7/10, B (Seen on 11/25/06)
  • comment
    • Author: Alsantrius
    I saw this film Tuesday afternoon at the San Francisco International Film Festival and it was amazing. It had a running time of approx. 90 minutes but I'm not really sure because I couldn't take my eyes off of the screen. The film unfolds chronologically and covers the formative years of Jim Jones' life and the birth, rise and eventual demise of the People's Temple. The story is told through interviews with the surviving members of the People's Temple, their family members and the survivors of Congressman Leo Ryan's ill-fated trip to Guyana. The director of the film forces us to look at the People's Temple on it's own merits and set aside the preconceived notions we have regarding the "mass suicide" and the tired notion that the members of the church were cult members who enthusiastically drank cyanide laced kool-aid to ascend to heaven. The former members of the church come off as enlightened idealists who were searching for a life with meaning in a society that ignored them because of their poverty or the color of their skin and they found their champion in Jim Jones. This film doesn't ask questions and answer them; it provides you w/ information and you are forced to disseminate it yourself. We get to see Jones for what he was: a father, a political power broker, old time preacher, son of a dysfunctional family, molester, savior, integrationist and killer.The camera doesn't pass judgment on history it just records it. This documentary fills in the gaps of a story that we thought knew. The music, archival photos and film footage used are amazing. I would highly recommend this film to anyone who is interested in the subject. The documentary unfolds like a dream and takes you on ride through the history of the People's Temple, it grabs you and doesn't let go.
  • comment
    • Author: Araath
    I saw this in San Francisco, where the Peoples Temple was located in the 70s. Former Peoples Temple members and the director and writer of the movie were present (and there was discussion after the screening). It was certainly a powerful place and way to see it, but I think the movie stands on its own. It does a good job of showing what attracted people to the Peoples Temple and how, gradually, things started to go very wrong. There is footage from the days of the Peoples Temple as well as new and moving testimony (that feels like the right word) from former members and family of members.

    It's not clear if it will get distributed theatrically but, if not, the director said it will air on PBS in 2007. Highly recommended.
  • comment
    • Author: Nten
    This story is so much more complex than news reports of the Guyana tragedy would have us believe. The members of The People's Temple had such altruistic intentions: they had a vision of a Utopian society where racial harmony and true brotherhood was the order of the day. They wanted to guarantee care for the poor, the elderly, children....and they wanted to create real community. This doco manages to tell the whole story, while honoring the pure intentions of the Temple members, and even shedding light on the paradoxical cult leader, Jim Jones - a man who was impressively liberal and progressive, politically, but frighteningly meglomaniacal and abusive, when it came to leading his "flock." The strength of this film lies in the fact that it isn't just a play-by-play from afar, but a collection of first-hand interviews with people who were actually there, and who knew the key players. A must-see for anyone who was alive and aware went these events took place.
  • comment
    • Author: Kahavor
    Ah yes, another opportunity to mention The Wire as all fans tirelessly (and tiresomely) do; I was reminded of the Jonestown massacre (and that is how I see it) by a Spearhead track on the series soundtrack and coincidentally this film was on a week or so after I heard it. My knowledge of the events in Jonestown can be summarised into one short sentence so this film interested me by offering more than a simple summary. Using footage from inside the People's Temple movement as well as interviews with former members this builds the story chronologically from early stages through to the tragic conclusion to the movement.

    There are many challenges and traps associated with telling this story and mostly this film works because it avoids the majority of them and deals well with the telling. The first challenge is to get the viewer to a point where it is at least understandable how Jones could lead such a movement to such an extent. One of the contributors says that nobody sets out to join a cult that will hurt them but yet the film makes it reasonably clear why so many people ultimately did and why so many people put up with so much out-and-out weirdness and oppression. In doing this the material naturally suggests that Jones is a monster or crazy and it would have been easy to ham this aspect up with music etc to the detriment of the film. As it works out, the film doesn't do this and instead lets events speak for themselves without really pulling cheap tricks to sensationalise or demonise anyone unnecessarily.

    As a result it all comes over even handed and fair. The heavy use of those directly involved makes it a lot more interesting than a heavy narrator-led approach because you hear things first hand and have an insiders perception of events. Some viewers will feel the lack of conspiracy in the film but I did not because the film was on the general sweep of the tragedy rather than suggested stories behind it. OK so the material does a lot of the work by having a lot of inherent interest within it but even still this documentary is effectively structured with a good personal presentation that gets inside the world of the People's Temple and Jonestown.
  • comment
    • Author: Dorizius
    I saw this at the London Film Festival, and was impressed by what appeared to be a balanced picture - of both the Peoples Temple church and Jim Jones himself. The film is captivating in its chronological story telling, leading up to the tragic events in Guyana.

    However I did find the repeat use of some archival footage a bit weak, and unless I missed it, it was never explained that the "Planning Commission" was part of the Peoples Temple itself.

    Like any good documentary, it left me wanting to find out more, but I did think that it was an omission not to attempt any consideration of what led Jones to turn what had been a beneficial organisation, into a murderous one. Neither does the film attempt to look into how the organisation was run - presumably Jones couldn't have directly controlled the 1,000 inhabitants of Jonestown? The source of the poison and weapons is also a subject that doesn't feature, or the question of what happened to the money afterwards?

    Overall this is a really interesting film, especially for those of us who were too young to remember the events.
  • comment
    • Author: Ferne
    This film documents the life of Jim Jones, his emergence as a charismatic and successful religious figure, and his eventual downfall.

    The whole People's Temple story always struck me as just another of the 60's cult phenomena. We had Rajneesh and his farm, and uncountable other guru's who exploited, and continue to exploit, large numbers of gullible followers. The Moonies are still with us, but well below the radar most of the time.

    What's odd about Jim Jones -- to me, anyway -- is that no one really seems to know who this guy really was. This film gives more insight than anything else I've seen or read. It talks about his childhood, which was extremely poor, and his family situation, which was equally grim, so we get some insight there. But he was a very carefully guarded fellow. Always wearing those shades, always talking in the manner of a preacher. But who was he really? What was he like when he took off the robes and had a beer? We may never know. His followers certainly didn't know, and no doubt that's a major part of the problem. There is one scene in this documentary in which Jones is standing at the back of a group of people at a large gathering, and his demeanor reminded me of the dictator in North Korea -- it was that kind of vague, arrogant, totally in control look. Spooky.

    The most telling comment in this film was the remark made by one of the PT's former members, who said "No one ever goes and joins a cult. They join a church, or a club." But what is the tipping point at which people can tolerate psychological and physical abuse against themselves and their friends? We don't get an answer to that. The people who made this film didn't have to tell us the answer, but it would have been a better film if they had.
  • comment
    • Author: Prinna
    This is a very accomplished documentary. It reveals, via its interviewees, a level of despair and dismay that the past twenty eight years have yet to efface. Whole families - indeed an entire community were liquidated in minutes on November 18, 1978. Jim Jones was a conventional mid-western preacher in every respect bar one - his empathy for African Americans, and therefore his commitment to the idea of a racially integrated church. Of course many conventional churches - Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, etc., reached out to marginalised communities, but this tendency was perhaps less pronounced in the southern evangelical tradition, which was highly influential in Jones' home state of Indiana (which had been the epicentre of Klu Klux Klan activity in the decade before Jones' birth under the leadership of Ed Jackson and the infamous David Stephenson). The fact that Jones was a little ahead of the curve on the most sensitive and essential issue in American society, and since he was cursed by an unusual sense of self-belief, it led him to believe that he was special, and that his message and the principles by which he operated his church, were unique. Once he comprehended the uniqueness of his mission there was really no limit to his ambitions - he could be anything - he could be the son of God or he could be an avenging angel. In fact he was also a huckster and con-man of the first order with a vastly inflated sense of his own importance, and his relative ignorance of ecclesiastical history prevented him from acknowledging that there have been several important communistic sects in the Christian tradition - not least in America (viz. the early Anabaptists in Reformation Germany, the Diggers/True Levellers in Commonwealth England, the Shakers and certain aspects of Mormonism, etc.).

    As Jones staked out ever greater claims for himself, he placed himself on a trajectory of spiritual fraud that was so steep that any mis-step or retreat might bring his whole house of cards to the point of collapse. He therefore became hopelessly compromised: he could either become the messiah or another one of California's many prison inmates. The stress of this might explain the paranoia, the abuse of those in his power and the self-abuse that occurred as his 'ministry' progressed. In the end he had taken his loyal and long-suffering congregation so far (both emotionally and physically) that he must have reasoned that the only way of evading an wretched reckoning was by some form of abdication - which took the form of his own suicide and the murder of almost all of his followers. Jones was all of a piece with the likes of Charles Manson or David Koresh.

    In view of his increasingly outré behaviour, it was almost inevitable that he should have gravitated towards San Francisco and that he should have become prominent in local politics under the aegis of the well-meaning (but arguably misguided) George Moscone. The film does not mention the close connections between the doomed Leo Ryan and Moscone, nor the imminent assassination of Moscone and Harvey Milk by Dan White. That was unfortunate, because it underscored the strangeness of this remarkable story. However, it is by no means a fatal omission. I would have appreciated some detail on the attitude of the Guyanese authorities to this strange Temple in the jungle. Did the government of Forbes Burnham and Arthur Chung know anything about it and the danger that cult members were in? Did they make any attempt to intervene?

    I saw this film as part of the 2006 Times/BFI London Film Festival, and it is regrettable that it did not receive more publicity (not least in The Times itself). The story was told dead straight with little of the ostentatious editing that is now so common in documentaries, and is all the more effective for it. The audience left the theatre in something approaching a state of utter desolation - a tribute to the terrible nature of the story, the integrity of the witnesses and the ability of Stanley Nelson and his colleagues.

    The film contains many scenes (footage of services in People's Temple) that seem joyous - and they are all the more tragic for that. Yet I could never quite tell what was in the eyes of all these doomed worshippers (many of whom were otherwise helpless, lonely and frail). Was it rapture or was it...terror?
  • comment
    • Author: Reemiel
    This is one of these stories that can be revisited over and over again while trying to understand what actually happened. What are the reasons that make people do horrible things without really wanting or understanding why do they do them. It is a film about collective delusion and manipulation... or maybe it is a film about fear and uncertainty towards life?

    Well, I wish I could answer these questions after this documentary. But I can't, because despite it's very acceptable technical quality, the choice of a chronological narration doesn't do much to add depth to a character larger than life as Jim Jones was.

    The film did a lot to enlighten me in the origins of the church, it's racial integration and also its claims against social inequality. But the character itself remains a mystery to me. His motivations, the techniques he used to control his followers. It is all depicted very lightly and without much intellectual depth. There are moments when some of the cult followers say things about Jones that could be further explored, but unfortunately the director chooses to leave them as nearly an anecdote.

    And this is what I think it is the biggest concern I have against this very interesting film. The narration makes Jones appear as an eccentric egomaniac. But the truth is that one hints there was so much more in his plans. It is just not plausible that he just made up the mass suicide- murder idea on the go. There is something utterly well thought out about how everything happened. This is pure evil at work, not very different to the Jew extermination by the Nazis. There was a plan, and I am sure that in this case there was a very well laid out plan. But the film makes it all appear almost as random as the weather.

    It is a pity, because the archive footage is varied and excellent. But I can't help but wonder what Errol Morris would have done of this film. Probably a masterpiece, because he would have made what he does best: Portray characters with total precision.

    Still, an interesting documentary to watch.
  • comment
    • Author: Wymefw
    The best Peoples Temple documentary so far, but there remains considerable room for improvement. "The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" glosses over numerous bizarre events in the life of Jim Jones, such as his acquaintance with Dan Mitrione--an infamous undercover CIA operative who was assassinated in Uruguay in 1970--and Jones's extended stay in Brazil during the early 1960s. (Mitrione was there at the same time, working for the U.S. State Department, and the CIA has admitted that it opened a file on Jones when Mitrione was dispatched to Brazil in September 1960). These are established facts, not unverified rumors, so it seems simply lazy to exclude them from what purports to be an evenhanded account of Jones's quasi-religious Marxist cult. Also unexamined here is the medical evidence indicating that most of the 913 victims at Jonestown did not commit suicide, but were murdered. Survivor Stanley Clayton, who is interviewed in the film, saw adults being forcibly injected with cyanide before he escaped from the isolated jungle settlement (see Tim Reiterman's "Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People"), which appears to confirm the findings of Guyana's chief pathologist Dr. Leslie Mootoo, who was the first to examine the bodies. Those findings, however, are not discussed in the documentary. Were mind control experiments being conducted at Jonestown? (There were large amounts of drugs like sodium thiopental and chloral hydrate in the compound's medical facilities.) Was Jim Jones connected to the CIA, and did the agency seize the perfect opportunity to silence Congressman Leo Ryan, one of its most vocal critics? "The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" eschews these questions, predictably reducing the story--once again--to a real-life soap opera about a megalomaniac and his tragically misguided disciples. The interviews with those who knew Jones and worked alongside or followed him are fascinating, but significant and perhaps crucial chunks of the Peoples Temple saga are missing from this film.
  • comment
    • Author: Beazekelv
    I saw this recently at the 2007 Palm Springs International Film Festival. It had a WHG Boston logo at the beginning credit roll so I would assume that this will aired on PBS television stations. Listening to comments from viewers leaving the theater I was surprised that many had never heard of Jim Jones and Jonestown or could barely remember it. As for me, this documentary fell short in that it never really told me anything about Jones and his doomed cult that I didn't already know. This is the story of the charismatic religious leader Jim Jones and his beginnings in Indiana to his moving to California and ultimately founding the Peoples Temple based in San Francisco where he built a large congregation of predominantly black parishioners and their families and former white hippies. He gained political clout but when an investigation into how is organization is run is launched he moves the temple to a remote South American jungle. It compiles news footage, grainy home movies from temple members and still photographs along with some interviews of people who lost family members and survivors. It's being submitted as a Best Documentary out of the USA to the Academy Awards but this is more of a television movie than a theatrical release. It leaves many unanswered questions as to where they got their weapons and cyanide? Who used the weapons to control the 900 into forcible suicide? What happened to those who oversaw the mass suicide? did they live and escape into the jungle? How did his hierarchy work? What happened to all the money that was being used to run Jonestown? This is a good documentary from director Stanley Nelson and writer Marcia Smith who have teamed together on several television documentaries. It's not great but it's worth a look. I would give this a 7.0 out of 10.
  • comment
    • Author: Delagamand
    The documentary "The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple" dives into the 1978 murder/suicide of over 900 members of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple due to poisoned punch and is told from the POV of former cult members. These members, all men and women, black and white tell their stories of cult life in an honest, non-flinching way. Jim Jones opened his cult to every walk of human society; young, old, white, black, male and female.

    These former members tell stories about Jim Jones' drug abuse, God complex, and sexual molestation against them and others. Some like Hue Folsom use a defense mechanism of laughing about Jones' perversions and others like Tim Carver are more solemn when talking about such things. People are different and everyone reacts to trauma in his or her own way.

    To hear these traumatized ex-members talk about the aftermath of the poisoning is quite sad and chilling. You can see the pain in the eyes of Grace Stoen, Tim Carver, and Vern Gosney when they talk about the loss of their young sons in Jonestown!

    I do hope doing this documentary was therapeutic for all involved and they receive love and support from the viewers of this documentary and from others.
  • comment
    • Author: Bradeya
    The Jonestown Massacre is an event so horrible and unique that it's hard to fathom that it did in fact happen; such is the unbelievable nature of its waste of human life. In this made for television documentary commissioned by PBS, we get an insight into the events leading up to and also during the mass suicide that killed over 900 followers of demented church leader Jim Jones.

    Director Stanley Nelson has done a fine job gathering together a range of talking heads who experienced the workings of Jones first hand and his also unearthed some quite startling archival footage and voice recordings to give us an eerily insightful look at what took place in the People's Temple and what exactly Jones preached on the day the Cool Aid supplies were used for the most sinister reasons possible. These uses of real life footage and voice recordings create the documentary's most powerful moments and a culmination of extreme evil at the end becomes jaw droopingly hard to sit through as men, women and children (some babies) were told they needed to end their life all for the sake of the greater good. While these elements combine to create a morbidly fascinating look into the People's Temple the film lacks an overall sense of achievement in its telling of Jones and his motivations.

    You get the feeling that the quintessential look into this group and its manipulative leader is still to be told, as here Nelson fail's to properly pinpoint just what drew Jones to not only start the group, but end the group and the film remains frustratingly distant in many avenues when it comes to the focus of who Jones was and what he wanted. The world may never truly understand just what drove this evil man and what also drew so many to feel like they were powerless to stop the man or simply say no to him but surely there is more insight to be found for the groundwork of such an evil human.

    While not entertainment in any stretch of the imagination, Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple is an intriguing look into an event that occurred not that long ago and remains to this day one of the most horrific acts of violence ever seen and an example of blind faith leading to destruction.

    3 loudspeaker announcements out of 5

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  • comment
    • Author: Vikus
    Those poor people that died; with great sincerity, they trusted the good reverend Jim Jones. He was their "father", their leader; he could do no wrong. Jones promised a better life for his followers in the jungles of Guyana. Jonestown was to be a utopia on earth. And all those who went ... believed. Yet, in reality, Jones was a flimflam man, a con artist, a monster suffering from paranoia, egomania, and delusions of grandeur.

    This documentary retells the infamous story, with archival footage of Jones' past, and how he organized the Peoples Temple in California. We learn that Jones, charismatic and charming, was quite deceptive, and that he sold himself as God to his flock: "Some people see a great deal of God in my body; they see Christ in me."

    Though Jonestown residents seemed superficially happy, trouble lurked underneath the smiles and laughter. Upon the visit of a U.S. Congressman and camera crew, a number of Jonestown residents wanted to leave. Which didn't sit well with the good reverend, infinitely suspicious of the intentions both of his own people and of the U.S. Government.

    The first 48-minute segment of this documentary describes general events before the move to Guyana, and consists largely of interviews. Only in the second half does the film actually detail the final couple of days, November 17th and 18th, 1978. But with filmed events at the scene, and photos, that final 25-minute segment is riveting in its horrifying reality.

    The documentary could have been better. Especially in the first half, there are way too many repetitive interviews, which focus on impressions rather than facts. I would like to have seen a more factual presentation. Too much time is spent on pre-Guyana events. And the photos don't identify who is in the pictures.

    Nevertheless, the real-life story itself is so overwhelming, so powerful, that even a mediocre production can be riveting and amazing, as this one is. That such an idealized utopia could morph so quickly into a hellish nightmare shows what a poisonous mix isolation, gullibility, and mass hypnosis can be.
  • comment
    • Author: Questanthr
    The events that led to the deaths of 909 Americans, most of whom voluntarily gave up their lives under the watch and orders of a sadistic, egomaniacal, hypocritical, but convincing madman are, by themselves, very difficult to accept. Any reasonable person would not want to accept that these things have happened, and continue to happen today on a lower magnitude. However, it is best to know how these things happen so that history doesn't repeat itself. It is a lesson that, ironically, was actually spelled out in all capital letters on a sign that hung prominently in Jonestown, Guyana: "THOSE WHO CANNOT REMEMBER THE PAST ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT". It's even more ironic that this particular sign can be seen in the haunting photographs hanging over the lifeless bodies of unfortunate victims.

    The things that happened in Guyana on November 18, 1978 are a tough pill to swallow, that's for sure. What's great about a documentary like "Jonestown: The Life And Death of People's Temple" is that many of the events leading up to the notorious mass suicides are unfolded with the aid of vast amounts of archive footage, revealing photographs, and absolutely no narration whatsoever. The accounts of more than a dozen former People's Temple members, including some who miraculously made it out of Jonestown alive, provide the much-needed support for this heavy-handed historical account.

    Viewers who are unaware of the events, or who don't know where the expression "drinking the purple Kool Aid" comes from, will probably be shocked even in the first five minutes of this movie. It is then that the who, what, when, where and how are revealed, none of which is pretty. It is to find out the why that many people, including myself, would want to watch this documentary.

    Deborah Layton, a former People's Temple member who wrote a bestselling book about her ordeal with Reverend Jim Jones and his followers, starts the documentary out right by saying, "Nobody joins a cult. Nobody joins something they think's gonna hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join a political movement, and you join with people that you really like". Upon hearing this statement, I could not help but think of the proverb, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions".

    More pertinent to this story, it seemed as though Jim Jones founded the People's Temple on very good intentions. His church embraced integration when many other churches were against it. When his congregation grew, the Temple provided a great amount of community service. As you watch the footage of the church services, you see so many happy people, and it's easy to forget the magnitude of the group's eventual demise.

    In fact, the interviewees do a great job expressing their reasons for joining the Temple. They also delve into some interesting details about when Jim Jones revealed his true intentions to them behind closed doors. Let's just say that some of his tactics ranged from public humiliation to sodomy.

    Of course, once Reverend Jones and company hightail it to a remote location in Guyana, the story gets even more disturbing. The opinions of Jonestown vary amongst the survivors. Some hated it from the start, while others loved it up until the very end. Regardless, the accounts that came from all these people, including Jim Jones' adopted African-American son Jim Jones, Jr., are all fascinating.

    Director Stanley Nelson did some great research for this documentary, and the interviews served as the backbone for this project. The only weakness the documentary has involves the aftermath of the survivors. You're given an epilogue consisting solely of what family and friends each surviving member lost. What I wanted to know, however, is how the survivors, who had given their lives and possessions to the People's Temple, moved on from the ordeal. They lost everything, yet when it was probably easiest to kill themselves along with the other Guyana members, they are still around today to tell the tale. It also would have been nice to know if they are successful or not.

    Actually, Nelson wanted to include such information, but claimed he ran out of time. If he directs a companion piece to this documentary that includes such information, it would be information that would offset the pain of such a tragedy at least a little, and that is all most viewers could ask for in this instance.
  • comment
    • Author: Nuliax
    The horrific story of the Jonestown massacre never stops to stir powerful emotions in all of us. A man who attempted to fight segregation and racism in 1950's Indiana ends up as a crazy communist style dictator and slaughters over 900 hundred of his flock. It is easy to see how Jim Jones managed to attract so many faithful in the beginning. There are lost souls everywhere, and it seems there are more of them every day. He reached to those who didn't matter in a society obsessed with money and success. He provided family to many who never had it. And most of all he made those who believed in him important and unique.But, alas that kind of power and adoration always ends in tragedy. Jim Jones was a drug addict and a fake, and above all a dangerous, disturbed person. The consequence is hundreds of dead and many more damaged for life. There is one question that poses itself. Why is it that in our country, "the greatest land on earth", so many people seek solace in the next world following crazed prophets. The answer to that question might be a sobering one. There is no room for failure and weakness in America. When that happens, you are on your own. Until some Jones, Koresh or Alamo comes along and the real horror starts.
  • comment
    • Author: Prince Persie
    The greatest documentaries will keep you fascinated throughout, regardless of whether you know the outcome or not. The focus of Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple is the mysterious and disturbing mass-suicide of 909 people in the jungles of Guyana, in a new settlement they dubbed 'Jonestown' after their fanatical leader Jim Jones. This was a well publicised event, but has only really been tagged as a simple 'cult ritual', with all the finer details frustratingly spared. Jonestown delves deeper into this still-shocking event, and exposes not a small army of brainwashed fanatics, but a community terrified by a maniacal control-freak with a God complex.

    Jim Jones was a lonely child in a household dominated by an unloving, alcoholic father. He sought refuge in the church where he found a family he belonged to, and eventually became a preacher. While preaching for civil rights and racial equality, he began to amass a large following, and soon his small community was too large for Indiana, and they all relocated to California where they became known as the Peoples Temple. Followers had there medical bills, travel expenses, clothes and near everything else paid for them, as to be a member you were expected to work and earn your place. Soon though, members began defecting, and Jones and Peoples Temple fled to Guyana after a magazine article was due to be published, exposing sexual abuse, physical humiliation and staged healings at the hands of Jones.

    Sadly, this documentary leaves many questions unanswered, namely surrounding Jones himself, who remains a - strangely uncharismatic - mystery. Yet through interviews with survivors and Jones's adopted son, we learn that political power gained through the growth of Peoples Temple and his abuse of drugs and alcohol, soon led to his psychological demise. His preachings of racial equality helped him earn the backing of elderly black women, and soon enough liberal white youngsters, and his old-world gospel style quickly earned him the adoration of these social outcasts. But we hear him preach about how there is no heaven above, and if these people want him to be their God, then he will play that role. This would be blasphemy in most people's eyes, yet these people on the crust of society were just looking for some kind of stability and sense of belonging.

    Of the actual massacre itself, there is a surprisingly large amount of video and audio recordings. The camp has an atmosphere of hushed fear, that everyone is thinking the same thing but no-one dare say it. Jones's voice blasted out his gibberish, alcohol-fuelled rants almost non-stop while the followers did their jobs. The murder of Congressman Leo Ryan sets in motion a terrifying sequence of events, all caught mainly on audio, as Jones tells his members that it's time to die. His voice urging the children to "hurry, hurry," is particularly chilling. It's still difficult to believe how this happened. A man who could have had all the power he craved, both politically and financially, but seemed to be driven more by the need to control and dominate his loyal followers. Like I said before, Jim Jones still remains a mystery, but the movie does shed some light on the man, and paints a clearer picture of what happened that day on November 18th, 1978.
  • comment
    • Author: Itiannta
    Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple This documentary was the story of the beginning, uprising and fall of the Peoples Temple. Peoples Temple was a religious organization formed by Jim Jones in Indiana in 1955. The church grew over the years and became a community or a family, where the members lived together, and worked together to provide for themselves all of their needs. In a sense it was a cultish commune, which was Jones' aspiration since he was an advocate for communism himself, and was frustrated with the hatred towards communism in the US. The group started out small in Indiana then grew larger as it moved west towards California and then eventually ended in with numbers of people over one thousand in Guyana, a country located in northern South America. A suspicious congressman came in to investigate the organizations suspicious flee to South America. Upon learning that some members of the group wanted to leave, the congressman and others will killed while trying to depart. The documentary explains the background and formation of the organization, and goes on to explain the migration of the church. It tells the story of the message and the hope that these people possessed. The controversy lies in the resulting fate of Peoples Temple. After the congressman was murdered Jones convinces members that they will not get away with what has happened at the only way to escape it and to be free is to kill themselves. On that day 909 men, women, and children committed a mass-suicide in the name of Jim Jones and Peoples temple. Several members were not present that day, several left the community before it got to that point, and very few escaped the day of the massacre. This documentary interviews those survivors in order to give the audience a moving, and intense perception of what really went on with Peoples Temple.

    The editing involved still images with motion, cutaways of interviewees and video footage. Audio footage from Jones' sermons, smooth transitions, and text overlays. The raw footage of the people was not good quality because it was recordings from the 70's, however it made it seem more real that it was amateur footage. The shots from the interviews were quite impressive though, I noticed especially during the credits that the lighting just looked good, plain and simple. The music also played a huge part in making this documentary effective. It was a documentary about a mass suicide and a religious cult so the creepy and suspicious music was appropriate. Also, to create the vibes of happiness, joy, and peace that the members of the group felt, songs of happiness that were sung during sermons by the congregation were played throughout the movie. It was overall a very informative and interesting documentary. It took a very intriguing topic and answered every question I had on the subject in a creative and beautiful way. It provoked thought, emotion, and concern on the matter, and I really enjoyed the documentary.
  • comment
    • Author: Cordanius
    Jonestown, directed by Stanley Nelson, is a film covering the disastrous mass "suicide" of 900 members of The Peoples Temple, led by preacher, Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guana in 1978.

    The ideas that were presented in this film were numerous; however, I found the idea of the grand power of brainwashing to be particularly interesting. The idea that "you don't ever join a cult, you join a religious or political group with people you like and with whom you have similar views" struck me. Jim Jones made these people believe that his way of life was the only way of life, made them think they could not leave his program, and told them that "if you wanted me to be your God, I will be your God." Though the film focuses mainly on the major events that were involved in creating and being a part of The Peoples Temple and then finally the suicide, the film also talks about Jim Jones as a person. They mention that he was obsessed with death as a child, and was a very good speaker and preacher. It makes mention of false miracles, his abuse of alcohol, and other illicit actions he takes part in. This man influenced so many people and brainwashed them to believe that there was no reason to live any longer, they should just die in peace. It is a scary thing to think that a man like that can have that kind of power over so many people.

    Those interviewed ranged from members of The Peoples Temple who were unable to go to Guana, relatives of those who were involved in The Peoples Temple, and a women who was able to visit Guana the day before the suicide, to those who managed to escape into the jungle of Guana the day of the tragedy. Those who were able to escape are to be applauded for their bravery to be on film. Their stories are heart-wrenching, and the fact they shared that part of themselves with an audience is to be highly recognized. Two men who were interviewed, whose story you follow throughout the film, watch their children die and hold their wives in their arms as they slip out of consciousness. These two men were able to escape that day.

    Stanley Nelson directed "The American Experience", which was four documentaries, one of which was Jonestown. The other installments in this series were The Murder of Emmett Till (2003), Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2001) and We Shall Remain: Part V - Wounded Knee, which is to air in May of this year. He has also directed films like, "The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords" and "A Place of Our Own."

    Looking at the film from a purely technical standpoint I really appreciated the editing style in the film. I really loved the use of audio of Jones preaching over still images. I liked all of the images they used of Jonestown and the pictures they used of the dead members laying face down with Jones' voice over it. It was haunting. Also, the music in the film wasn't overbearing and therefore it was very effective. It was well used for tone and establishing a mood for the audience.

    I really enjoyed watching Jonestown, and I felt it was well filmed and though it must have been a difficult thing to shoot it was handled with great care and creativity. It was a chilling experience and certainly taught me something I didn't know about previously.
  • comment
    • Author: Drelajurus
    This documentary shows how the Peoples Temple, created by Jim Jones, started to be an integrated church and was thought to be a welcoming church, and it also showed how it ended with the suicide and killing of the members. The documentary also shows the early life of Jim Jones and how the Peoples Temple may have gone wrong due to events in Jim Jones' life. Jim Jones believed he created something special and its members believed in it too. The Peoples Temple began in Indiana and it was later moved to San Francisco. It was believed that the reason they moved there was due to the belief of a nuclear war and how they could be safe in the valley. In San Francisco, they grew and later began to be investigated. During this time, Jim Jones quickly began to move to a town that he would create called Jonestown in the country of Guyana in South America. While in Jonestown many would began to go there and live in peace. Some political members went down to investigate and were killed trying to leave. Soon after almost all of the Peoples Temple, members were forced to drink poisoned kool-aid or they were shot. Many were shot trying to escape into the Jungle. The Peoples Temple started as a good idea but later became a tragedy.

    The documentary does a great job of telling the story how it happened and how it began, and ended. The filmmakers were able to get some surviving members of Jonestown along with some people that belonged to the Peoples Temple to talk about Jim Jones and how he and the Peoples Temple became corrupt. This film does a great job in letting the viewer know what is going on. If you had no idea, what the Peoples Temple was and saw this you would become well informed. The film also goes in great depth to show Jim Jones in every way. It shows him as a sad child to someone trying to make something out of himself by creating this church to a man with too much power and too many people believing that he can do what he wants.
  • comment
    • Author: Kale
    This documentary is indispensible because of the rare footage Stanley Nelson was able to find. However, the narrative of this film leaves out quite a bit about Jim Jones and his People's Temple. After viewing the Jim Jones biography on A&E and reading Deborah Layton's excellent book "Seductive Poison" I get the impression Nelson is only telling one part of a larger more complicated story with his 90 minute documentary.

    (Possible spoilers ahead) The main problem is Nelson doesn't portay well enough how most of the members of People's Temple were basically fooled by Jim Jones into thinking he was running a church or religious movement. Jones claimed to be a pastor. However, he was deep down a socialist who didn't actually believe in God. And no one could say he behaved like a pastor (multiple sexual partners, drinking/drugging)

    He basically ran the People's Temple like a communist government. All of the tactics he employed were influenced by Marx, Lenin and various communist countries. So while people thought they were joining a church they were in fact joining a political organization that wanted America to adopt socialism to solve all its social ills.

    While mamy well intentioned members may not have known what they were a part of before Guyana. I think they saw clearly once they moved to Jonestown that they were in fact involved in a movement that had nothing to do with Jesus Christ. With Jonestown, Jim Jones had created his own little Soviet Union or Cuba. In fact he secretly planned to move his flock to Russia.

    As Deborah Layton explains in her book, the temple had to claim to be a church so they could get tax breaks and avoid being audited. But they were in fact a socialist organization. Nelson makes a big deal on the DVD of showing how "happy" the members of Jonestown looked on that final night before their suicides. And how it was still a vibrant community. The truth is found in Layton's book which I doubt the film makers bothered to read.

    She explains that when outsiders visited, Jones instructed his followers to look happy and say they had no desire to leave. And how in fact many residents appeared happy because they were getting a day off work and real food. Also, Layton explains that many members of Jonestown couldn't leave because they'd donated their life savings, SS checks and sold their homes to support the temple. So if they returned to the states they would have to start over with no money. So of course they didn't want to leave. Jones had all their money.

    I wish the documentary would have clearly shown what really went down with the People's Temple. How Jones took advantage of poor minorities and rebellious young people and manipulated them for his own personal goals. I don't even think Jones set out to form a cult. However, he did want power, wealth and control. And a harem of adoring, young attractive women around him that he could make to anything.

    In the end, Nelson should have done a better job of explaining the external factors that made members want to stay in the People's Temple no matter what. The definitive book on Jonestown has been written (Seductive Poison). However, the definitive documentary has yet to be made. Don't be fooled by the narrow view of the Jonestown tragedy that is presented in this film. Read Layton's book are watch the A&E documentaries. They help tell the full story about what really went on in Jonestown. However, the "why" is what Nelson fails to answer.
  • comment
    • Author: energy breath
    This could have been a great exercise in understanding the human condition and the nature of religious cults but instead we get a half-hearted, breezy little film with clumsy editing and shallow, childish themes. It completely fails to intelligently assess what happened.

    The romanticized ending where the ex-members go on in tears about how they tried to create paradise on earth and that even though it failed, at least they made the effort was just too much. Free from the cult, these people continue to be idiotic, pathetically vulnerable human beings without a shred of dignity or intelligence - completely content with playing "victim". Sure were brainwashed and abused but it's been years since the incident and these grown men and women are still unable to assume partial responsibility for the mass killings of innocent kids and random politicians. Jim Jones is just one man. Ultimately it's the blind followers and sad, silly, co-dependent escapists easily lured by unrealistic promises who enable psychopaths like Jim Jones to thrive. This film deserves to be burned for ending on such a ridiculous, offensive note.
  • comment
    • Author: Sennnel
    Wow. This documentary actually made a huge impression on me. I'm more of an animal guy myself, but I have to say, a couple of scenes in this documentary really got to me. I caught this on television without knowing what it was about beforehand, and not having heard of Jonestown at all. And like I said, some scenes towards the end are truly horrifying. One shot in particular took me by surprise, and really stabbed me in the feels( the kids say these days). Totally heartbreaking.

    The whole story is fascinating as hell, and Jim Jones is really charismatic, and you can kind of understand how/why people, for some reason or other, was mesmerized by him.

    This whole cult-thing is a fascinating and scary concept, and it's interesting to see how stuff like this can actually happen. With commentary from actual people who were actually there.

    I can also recommend "The Sacrament" which is a mystery/thriller/horror based on these events.
  • comment
    • Author: Ferri - My name
    First word tells. Never trust anything starting with 'Peoples...'

    Unfortunately, Jim Jones' cult (Peoples Temple) was targeting particular groups who were over-keen to believe in Utopia, many of them humble Afro-Americans, who seem to outnumber the other races in a way that makes this rainbow coalition look a bit suspect from the start. The black dimension is, however, the central concern of director Stanley Nelson, and that is how this 85-minute documentary differs from many others on the same horribly fascinating subject. It also means that you are better to have watched some of these first, as the present work naturally gives you a skewed version of the story.

    Only the first and last sections are directly sequential - Jones' boyhood, and then the climactic 24 hours leading up to the murder/suicide of 900 trusting believers. The main body of the film is taken up with first-hand testimonies by those connected with the Temple, either as bereaved relatives or disillusioned whistleblowers. Not one in ten of these could be described as people of critical insight. In fact, 'uncritical' is probably the key word. Long before they swallowed their lethal poison, they were swallowing a cheap mix of cult-theory, hot-gospeller gabble and theatrical stunts, including a transparently fake miracle with a wheelchair-bound 'patient' who is inspired to get up and walk.

    Some of their comments are so stupid that they can only be good news for any budding cult-leader, perhaps feeling tempted after watching an exceptionally glamorous whistleblower confessing that she surrendered her virtue to Jones when he said "I'm doing this for you, Debbie." One survivor, clearly unteachable, defends Jones on the grounds that "At least we tried to make a change". (Well, that really does leave the rest of us feeling narrow-minded.) Other reactions include "It all looked so plausible", "It looked like freedom" and "We had fun".

    At the risk of talking cliché, it is impossible not to note the Hitler parallels, especially the hypnotic effect on crowds and the appeals to turn-in your own family for signs of disloyalty. And his own suicide, at least, was on the cards. For he had shown that he was a man liable to cut-and-run. When the first whistleblower went to the press, Jones was on a plane to Guyana before the morning papers had even hit the street. And once that brave and unusually dutiful congressman Leo Ryan came to investigate on behalf of his worried constituents, it was clear that everything was about to unravel, and that Jones and his ghastly cult might as well self-destruct once and for all.
  • Cast overview, first billed only:
    Rebecca Moore Rebecca Moore - Herself
    Janet Shular Janet Shular - Herself
    Tim Carter Tim Carter - Himself
    Stanley Clayton Stanley Clayton - Himself
    Hue Fortson Jr. Hue Fortson Jr. - Himself
    Garrett Lambrev Garrett Lambrev - Himself
    Claire Janaro Claire Janaro - Herself
    Neva Sly Hargrave Neva Sly Hargrave - Herself
    Deborah Layton Deborah Layton - Herself
    Phyllis Wilmore Zimmerman Phyllis Wilmore Zimmerman - Herself
    Chuck Wilmore Chuck Wilmore - Himself
    John R. Hall John R. Hall - Himself
    Tim Reiterman Tim Reiterman - Himself
    June Cordell June Cordell - Herself
    Eugene Cordell Eugene Cordell - Himself
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