Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 – 7:30pm
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 fulfillment 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 Temple tells 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, DVD, 85 mins.

Post-screening discussion with Dr. Barry Beyerstein, Professor of Psychology and a member of the Brain Behaviour Laboratory at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Beyerstein is an expert on cults and their practices. In his work with the BC Society for Sceptical Enquiry and CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), he deals with issues such as the interpersonal dynamics of cult influence and the psychological attributes that make people vulnerable to cult recruitment.

Moderated by Dr. Harry Karlinsky, Director of Continuing Medical Education and Professional Development, Department of Psychiatry, University of British Columbia.

For more information on the film, see the Mar – Apr Pacific Cinémathèque Program Guide, or visit: