Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Wednesday October 19, 2011 – 7:30 pm
USA 2006. Director: Stanley Nelson

The 1960s ushered in nearly two decades of intense social and cultural tumult — change was in the air, revolution on the horizon, and all things seemed possible. Many looked to transcendental meditation, free love, Black Power, or LSD. But for some, Jim Jones, the charismatic and forceful leader of Peoples Temple, offered the perfect balance of spiritual fulfilment and political commitment. Jones not only preached about integration and equality — he built an organization that provided food, clothing, and shelter to his congregation and his community. On the surface, Jones and the multi-racial Peoples Temple congregation espoused the values of a model society. But upon closer examination, something was amiss. In the summer of 1977, with the publication of an exposé in New West magazine, the truth about Peoples Temple was revealed. Defectors and family members gave accounts of physical, sexual and drug abuse, financial corruption, and forced confinement. On November 18, 1978, more than 900 members of Peoples Temple died in the largest mass suicide/murder in history. Using survivor interviews and newly discovered archival footage (some of it only recently declassified by the CIA), Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Templetells the story of the people who followed Jim Jones from Indiana to California and finally to the remote jungles of Guyana in a misbegotten quest to build an ideal society. Colour, DigiBeta video, 85 mins.

Post-screening discussion with Dale Beyerstein. Dale has taught philosophy at Malaspina College, Douglas College, Kwantlen College, UBC, and Langara College. Dale is a founding member of the BC Skeptics, and a director-at-large of the organization.

Moderated by Dr. Harry Karlinsky, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia.


“Jonestown is not an easy movie to watch. But it’s a solid presentation of an important chapter in American and religious history. Haunting is the only word that truly fits.”

Denver Post | full review

“Ending with mass suicide in deepest Guyana, the story of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple is both the death rattle of ’60s utopianism and — predicated on the desire to found a New Jerusalem in the wilderness — a very American saga.”

Village Voice | full review

“[A] powerful, minutely documented film.”

New York Times | full review