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

7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 3,110 users   Metascore: 79/100
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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.

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

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Rebecca Moore ...
Herself
Janet Shular ...
Herself
Tim Carter ...
Himself
Stanley Clayton ...
Himself
Hue Fortson Jr. ...
Himself
Garrett Lambrev ...
Himself
Claire Janaro ...
Herself
Neva Sly Hargrave ...
Herself
Deborah Layton ...
Herself
Phyllis Wilmore Zimmerman ...
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Chuck Wilmore ...
Himself
John R. Hall ...
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Tim Reiterman ...
Himself
June Cordell ...
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Eugene Cordell ...
Himself
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Storyline

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.

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25 April 2006 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dödens tempel  »

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Did You Know?

Quotes

Christine Miller: [abridged dialogue from the infamous "Death Tape", which was recorded on the day of the massacre] I feel like, as long as there is life, there's hope. That's my faith.
Jim Jones: Well, someday we're gonna die... because everybody dies. I haven't seen anybody yet that didn't die. And I'd like to choose my own kind of death for a change. I'm tired of being tormented to hell, that's what I'm tired of. Tired of people's lives in my hands and I certainly don't want your life in my hands and I'm going to tell ...
[...]
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Connections

Referenced in Good Dick (2008) See more »

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Performed by the People's Temple Choir
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User Reviews

 
Chilling tragedy: over 900 cult members follow their leader's order to take part in a mass suicide
26 November 2006 | by (Portland, Oregon, United States) – See all my reviews

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)


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