In the 1960s, there was a belief that the force of social change could revolutionize the world. Looking to various movements in search of answers, people opened themselves up to new spiritual and political answers, and among them was the multi-cultural, communal, vaguely socialist church of Jim Jones. The Peoples Temple gained notoriety for moving his people to the jungle of Guyana to build their utopia, resulting in the death of over 900 members in a mass suicide. This lurid tale has been the stuff of media exploitation for years, demonizing Jones by casting him as a Svengali luring sheep to the slaughter. But Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple offers a more sophisticated thesis, digging into the reasons why people would enlist, which are rooted in an optimism and idealism. The film not only asks what went so maniacally wrong in Guyana, but more revealingly what were the good intentions that drove people there. Racial equality, poverty, community, and a way to fill a sense of societal malaise were all keywords, and interviews with survivors of Jonestown present them as bright, impassioned, serious-minded individuals, who might also be classified as idealistically naïve. Jonestown goes remarkably in-depth with its rediscovered footage, including startling video footage of Congressman Leo Ryan’s ill-fated trip to Guyana. (Among the talking heads is Ryan’s cameraman, who survived an assassination attempt.) The Ryan footage is not only racing for seeing men and women who would be dead 24 hours later, but also because the camp is brimming with life and vitality. Of course, those lives filled with such vitality were living under extreme duress. Jonestown shows the steps that led them there.
- 7th Art Releasing
- 85 min
- Stanley Nelson
- Marcia Smith
- Jim Jones
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: