JONESTOWN: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PEOPLES TEMPLE (Stanley Nelson) Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The 1978 mass suicide by more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple at Jonestown, Guyana, remains one of the most mysterious atrocities of the modern age. Stanley Nelson's new full-length documentary, this month's Doc Soup entry, explores the ideological roots of cult leader Jim Jones in a way that sets it apart from any ordinary A&E biography.
Nelson initially shows the sunglasses-wearing Jones as a civil rights champion, integrating blacks and whites in his church without violence, a beacon of hope in the tumultuous 60s. As Jones's own adopted African-American son explains, the reverend and his multicultural brood were the template of the rainbow family.
There's lots of footage of Jones's sermons - the man was a persuasive orator - combined with present-day interviews of former Peoples Temple members, including a handful who survived the mass suicide.
These exclusive interviews are fascinating. Ordinary-looking, now middle-aged subjects from all classes recall their initial optimism and give details about Jones that range from the banal (the guy liked Star Trek) to the bizarre (he believed everyone was homosexual except him).
Missing is any mention of Jones's wife, Marcelline, as well as the theory that the CIA were involved in the debacle.
The film's final third, which includes eerie video footage of Jonestown 24 hours before the suicide and audio clips taped the day of the event, is gripping stuff. But it's presented - to use a phrase that Jones himself liked - with dignity. (Wednesday, March 7, Bloor Cinema)