Search - Jonestown - The Life & Death of Peoples Temple on DVD

Jonestown - The Life & Death of Peoples Temple
Jonestown - The Life Death of Peoples Temple
Actors: Rebecca Moore, Janet Shular, Tim Carter, Stanley Clayton, Hue Fortson Jr.
Director: Stanley Nelson
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2007     1hr 26min

Studio: Paramount Home Video Release Date: 04/10/2007 Run time: 90 minutes Rating: Nr


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Movie Details

Actors: Rebecca Moore, Janet Shular, Tim Carter, Stanley Clayton, Hue Fortson Jr.
Director: Stanley Nelson
Creators: Christine Turner, Kristin Lesko, Mark Samels, Noland Walker, Sherry Alwell, Marcia Smith
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Biography
Studio: Pbs Paramount
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 04/10/2007
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 26min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 7
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Member Movie Reviews

Damian M. (ratchet)
Reviewed on 3/11/2009...
A great documentary with surviving members, member's families, and others involved with the People's Temple or Jim Jones in some way. This is the cult every knows about because of the "cool-aid drinkers." Jim Jones started the People's Temple in the mid 1950s as a revolutionary church. He started it in Indiana, but saw California as a more progressive area and moved the church to the SF area in mid 1970s. (This is where Jim Jones reached the peak of his political clout; influencing people such as Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, and Harvey Milk - this was mostly because he could produce 2,000 or more people for street protests on very short notice.) The idea for the organization started out as an outgrowth of the larger hippy movement. Pulling for the old-time traditions of Pentecostal and Apostolic teachings and combing those with New Age and humanist ideals, the church gained a wide ranging demographic in its membership. A vast majority of them were poor Blacks (who signed their welfare checks over to the People's temple), but the congregation included all strata of people across racial and socioeconomic lines (including two lawyers who penned the movie Executive Decision). The church was at first vaguely socialist (pro-homosexual, anti-racist, etc), but soon started expanding on those beliefs progressing to become an explicitly communist organization. (Jim Jones had long-time ties to various communist parties who helped him in his racial integration agenda in Indiana.) The members of the People's Temple were planning a move of Jonestown to the USSR, but instead at the time of the 'revolutionary suicide' the bulk of the movement's assets were transfered to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Interestingly, the cult was operated much like a kibbutz. Great documentary that fills in blanks beyond the sensationalized story presented in the media. Many great personal stories of both escape and loss in this emotional documentary.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

Reminder of the depths of exploitation
Andre M. | Mt. Pleasant, SC United States | 04/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I was in the eighth grade in 1978 when the Jonestown massacre took place and remembered it well from nightly newscasts. I remember how preachers used the Jones tragedy as a cautionary tale against the dangers of cults. The late 70s were a time of mass confusion after the traumas of the 60s, Vietnam, and Watergate, and a lot of these confused people were looking for direction.

This DVD does an excellent job of using archival footage and the recollections of survivors of Jim Jones' sickness and lunacy (including his African-Americn adopted son Jim Jones Jr.). To their credit, unlike most followers of cults and similar movements, no one among his former followers continues to defend him and all seem to accept the reality of how evil he actually was.

As the story goes on, one really feels for the poor blacks, elderly people, and assorted sixties misfits who fall for Jones' baloney. In most cases, its easy to mock the followers of such people as Jones as ignoramuses who should have known better, but to its credit, this film doesn't do that. It makes clear that most of these people were rejected by everyone else in society and Jones was the only one who appreared to acknowledge their humanity, thus they fell for him hook, line, and sinker to where they were convinced to worship Jones instead of God. The scene of Jones telling a cheering crowd not to believe in a God they could not see is really frightening.

The testimonies of former followers to Jones' sexual preversion and vile public sexual humiliation of his flock is truly jaw-dropping. It is noteworthy to consider that he would not get into such antics until long after he convinced his following of his false divinity. All of course led to the ultimate tragedy of convincing his followers to move to a remote outpost in Guyana, South America, and to commit mass suicide.

The Jonestown tragedy has receded in public memory due to the many events in recent history that have eclipsed it, but as Elijah Muhammad's biographer Claude Clegg correctly put it, "In times of crisis, charlatans fare well." This film serves as a timely reminder for succeeding generations to understand the dangers of surrendering one's mind to charasmatic "leaders" and false prophets. Check out Matthew 24:24 while you're at it."
One of the Most Horrifying Images of the Past!
Sylviastel | 04/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Jonestown, Guyana tragedy is still one of those tragedies that scare and fascinate me at the same time. The idea of people willingly drinking cynaide kool aid and dying under the burning sun. This DVD edition of Jonestown does not do enough in my opinion to help understand the situation. Deborah Layton's book, Seductive Poison, helped me gain a better understanding of the absolute horrors of Jonestown and how Jim Jones evolved from a good willing minister to a monster. Cults don't just pop up overnight. Jim Jones reached out to the disadvantaged and vulnerable like a predator stalking his prey. Once he lured them under his spell, he stripped them of their dignity, their finances, their free will, etc. It was like he possessed his followers and controled their outcomes. They were beaten, humiliated, embarrassed, and mistreated. Some who left were considered traitors to the church and the cause. This documentary displayed men and women, black and white, who wanted a society where it was more family. Jonestown became an Orwellian nightmare by catastrophic proportions. Could it have been stopped or prevented? Cults like the Peoples Temple start off well-spirited. The people like the members here felt that Jim who was charismatic and charming the pants of anybody lured them into his web. Once under his web, you were robbed of everything that made you an individual. Jim Jones feasted on the souls and the minds of his followers like a drug addict which he later became. The last day was the most horrifying to see those images of people lying together after drinking the poison. Tim Carter, one of the few survivors, recalled his wife and child drinking the poison and dying. Another survivor recalled laying his wife next to her grandmother on the ground. On November 18, 2008, it will mark 30 years of that tragic day. We forget such tragedies like Jonestown and Pan Am 103. Maybe the American public needs to be reminded of these events to help our future. You have to beware people like Jim Jones. I would have liked to see Stephen Jones, his son, in this documentary. I was glad for the final montage of pictures of those who died. They were murdered. They did not go willingly. After all, many of the followers were simply exhausted. In the interviews here, I didn't realize that the People's Temple Members were overworked, exhausted, and felt guilty for being tired. Exhaustion especially by Jim Jones' orders were sheer torture. Imagine being up for days working for your church while Jim Jones lived like a king but yet his followers did the work and weren't rewarded by him. Layton writes a lot more in her book which I recommend since it brings us to understand how she fell for him like so many other followers. Their loss is our loss in America. A third of the victims were children on November 18, 1978. I was five years old when it happened. I'm still haunted by it. I'm still shocked that a congressman like Leo Ryan was gunned down and the guilt of his death was brought upon the members by Jim Jones. The lies of Jim Jones was just outrageous and hard to believe. Layton writes about the white nights that occurred when Jim Jones called everybody to the Pavillion. The brainwashing was constant and lack of contact to the outside world was non-existent. Deborah Layton was one of the lucky ones to get out but she didn't forget the others including her brother who survived and her mother who died a week before Ryan's visit. They didn't mention Sharon Harris who was one of Jones' righthand zealot followers who killed her three children and herself in Georgetown only because Jones ordered her too. The others didn't in Georgetown that included his sons. There is still so much and there was that haunting letter telling us to keep investigating this tragedy to prevent another one. We are foolish to think that we can't be fooled when we know that smart, intelligent, wise, people are equally fooled as everybody else. Jim Jones was a master predator because he sought people who were vulnerable, insecure, ignored, etc. He preyed on their insecurities, isolation, abandonment worse than any predator could do. He robbed so many people of their lives, their homes, their finances, their health, their minds, their souls, and finally in the end, their lives. By the time, Jim Jones orchestrated his revolutionary protest or the mass murder at the pavillion, he had their souls and minds. Their bodies were just the shell that was carrying them around. It was Jones who dictated what they ate, heard, saw, etc. by then. He created a hell on earth that he masqueraded and sold as paradise. When the people came into Jonestown, they had no idea that it was really based more on the concentration camp during World War II. Only in those camps, people had more freedom than they did in Jonestown. Because once you entered Jonestown, there was no way out. We must not forget the lessons of Jonestown even now as if it was distant history."
Tremendously instructive. MUST SEE - but not by young childr
Still Learning, Still Thinking | USA | 04/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Jonestown" was originally a PBS "American Experience" program. It is presented only in the form of archival footage of the People's Temple and survivor interviews. There are no interviews of sociologists and there is no narration. This format is very powerful.

The DVD has good extras, including a touching interview with the director and some informative deleted scenes. The program has more information about the survivors interviewed during the final credits, so don't turn it off until the very end to see everything.

This program is horrifying and depressing, but IMHO, something that is important to watch because it illustrates very well how religion-based psychological and intellectual submission can, in the space of a few years, turn good people into slaves and good intentions into tragedy. I recommend watching "Jonestown" early in the evening, then watch something fun like "Wallace and Gromit" before you go to bed!

One note of caution. While it might be appropriate - even important - to watch this film with a strong-minded and mature teenager, young children should not be present while it's viewed.

I woke up with the following thoughts the morning after I watched the film (Unfortunately, I did not follow "Jonestown" with "W&G," so I went to sleep very agitated) :

Jim Jones and his People's Temple had a lot in common with many of today's (and history's) religious leaders and religious groups. Do any of these things sound familiar?

A CHARISMATIC AND PATERNALISTIC LEADER offers distressed and idealistic people hope - "new life" - and a profound sense of community. He tells the downtrodden that they are no longer "lost," that they are special indeed. He provides his followers a sense of superiority to the "worldly heathen" - which also instills fear of outsiders. He interprets scriptures, and chooses passages, in a manner conforming to the psychological needs and existing beliefs of his audience. He makes tithing a moral duty and a necessity for full membership. He presents himself literally as a wise and knowing "father," but eventually uses that status as a tool for abuse and self-gratification, sexually and otherwise. He develops an "inner circle" of people willing to do his bidding in an increasingly unquestioning manner. Once a solid group of followers is formed, he begins to teach that to leave the group is to "blaspheme" and that misery will befall those who leave, when in fact the greater misery is found by those who remain.

THE MEETINGS / SERVICES skillfully employ music and rousing speeches to excite the audience. The assembled people are asked to greet and embrace the people around them, which serves to increase solidarity, and whether by design or happenstance, to expose and create discomfort among the hesitant and the skeptical. Phony healings are part of the proceedings.

THE FOLLOWERS are a mix of individuals, but in general are characterized by either very difficult personal/social/economic backgrounds or by a deep sense of idealism. The leader's message promises hope and equality to the former - a feast for their starving psyches. For the merely idealistic, passions for love, community, and justice are inflamed.
Almost all of the followers are essentially decent and good people, but tend to be psychologically needy in one way or another. The tremendous sense of hope, of caring community, and the promise of utopia (in this life or the next) offered by the leader and his belief system causes the followers to suppress whatever critical faculties they might possess.

All of the above describes Jim Jones and his People's Temple. At least some of the above describes a zillion other religious groups, though of course very few come to such an horrific end.
However, if you watch this film, consider the point at which the People's Temple situation began to produce more harm than good. I think that point came long - very long - before the Kool-Aid was prepared. In fact, it came at a point where thousands - maybe hundreds of thousands - of churches, mosques, and synagogues operate every day - where doctrine, community, and leadership become more important than reason and reality. This is the point where, to be precise, the people become "as children" or "humble sheep."

Also, this program serves, in my opinion, to bolster the contention, recently made most vigorously by author Sam Harris, that religion is, and has always been, the most effective vehicle of mindsets that lead to senseless violence. Terrible ideologies and "leader worship" sometimes come in secular form, but history and any daily newspaper both show that nothing creates dangerous zealots like the idea that one is doing "the Will of God" on your way to heaven.

In the case of the People's Temple, Jim Jones skillfully combined his charisma with a Christian/socialist ideology - a devastating mixture long before the final Kool-Aid was prepared. But without his Pentecostal training, his ability to claim the authority of God (indeed, to be God), and without the concepts of heaven and hell, his reign would very likely have ended far sooner and with far fewer than 909 deaths.
The physicist Stephen Weinberg said, "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion." I would add only the words "almost always" before the words "takes religion.""