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Cinephile Report: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple Directed by Stanley Nelson

Screening as a part of Hot Docs's Doc Soup series this Wednesday at 6:30pm and 9:15pm at the Bloor Cinema $12 at the door and free for students with I.D. for the 9:15pm show only.

One of the most notorious events of the late 70's was undoubtedly the tragedy of the Jonestown Massacre. On November 18, 1978 in the wilds of the Guyanese jungle over 900 members of the People's Temple lead by their paranoid leader Jim Jones drank poisioned kool aid in what is still known as the largest mass suicide in world history.

Stanley Nelson's riveting and often unsettling documentary on the history of the People's Temple from Jim Jones's roots as a rising preacher on the gospel rival circuit to the events that lead to that horrible day is a must see.

There are a several strong factors that seperate this documentary from any other dealing with Jonestown incident. Nelson has tracked down a large amount of amazing archival super 8 footage shot for promotional purposes by members of People's Temple themselves. This footage helps craft an understanding of the seduction behind the ideas and opportunites Jim Jones presented to his followers that would see them travel with him from Indiana to California and finally to Guyana.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple is a pitch perfect portrait of the Jonestown experience that sheds light on the much of the cult's mystery through interviews with survivors and former People's Temple members. By addressing Jones's early life and his surprisingly groundbreaking work in the African American communities in regards to race relations and equality you can't help connecting with the idealism behind the People's Temple's philosophy. Exploring the racial aspect of the People's Temple with it's staggering 80% black congregation Nelson brings into play issues of poverty and class key to understanding Jim Jones's messiah-like cult persona in reference to an often ignored and struggling community.

Even weaving together an errie sountrack of songs sung by the People's Temple Choir and using heartbreaking never before seen letters and documentation made by the memebers right up until their deaths, Nelson never over dramatizes or relies on sentimentality in this documentary and in doing so paints a world that stays with you long after the lights go up.


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