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Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, May 1

49th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Monday, May 1, 2006
7:00 p.m. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Stanley Nelson (U.S., 2006)

Veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson traces the stunning rise and fall of Peoples Temple and its charismatic founder Jim Jones, who convinced hundreds of his followers in Jonestown, Guyana, to participate in a mass "suicide" on November 18, 1978. The shocking tragedy made international headlines. More than 900 people, including more than 200 children, died in the utopian community they had tried to create in the jungles of Guyana in South America. Many of those who died were from the Bay Area as Jones held sway over a huge congregation in San Francisco from 1972 to 1977. Nelson interviews former members of Peoples Temple, including many whose family members perished in Jonestown. Initially, they felt they were part of an idealistic interracial community that could change the world. But they also reveal the fear, paranoia, and beatings that were part of the traumatic experience. Jones became their father, friend, savior, and god. The film includes remarkable archival footage of Jones discussing his childhood in Indiana and preaching in San Francisco, where he wielded considerable political clout due to his ability to get hundreds of his followers to appear at many local political events. There is also riveting footage of San Mateo Congressman Leo Ryan's visit to Jonestown to investigate claims of people being held against their will and audiotape of Jones preaching, including his chilling exhortation to "die with dignity." How was it possible for such a horrific event to take place? This disturbing portrait raises as many questions as it answers.

—Chuleenan Svetvilas

• Photographed by Michael Chin. (86 mins)