Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

2006, Crime  -   60 Comments
Ratings: 8.16/10 from 98 users.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples TempleProduced for the PBS series American Experience, Stanley Nelson's Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples' Temple, written by his frequent collaborator Marcia Smith, examines the infamous religious cult formed by Jim Jones and the events that led to the group's horrifying mass suicide in 1978. The film traces Jones' history from his unhappy childhood in rural Indiana.

Witnesses describe a strange, charismatic young man who nursed a seemingly sincere desire for social justice, but also reputedly murdered small animals as a child. Jones' desire to befriend people across color and class lines alienated his family and neighbors. Eventually, he moved to Indianapolis, where, as a young Pentecostal minister, he started the city's first integrated church.

Eventually, Jones moved his church to California to escape the racism he perceived in Indiana. In Redwood Valley, his church took on a new life, and he began aggressively recruiting new members. At first, members were required to tithe a percentage of their worth, but eventually, they were expected to relinquish all of their "worldly goods" to the Temple. In 1974, Jones moved to San Francisco, where he acquired some political clout before his high profile caught up with him.

Just before a damaging exposé was published, he moved his people to what was meant to be a "paradise" outside the racism and oppression of America, in Guyana. Nelson interviews eyewitnesses, including many former members of the Temple, and members of Congressman Leo Ryan's staff who managed to escape when the congressman's investigatory visit ended in bloodshed. The film had its world premiere at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.

More great documentaries

60 Comments / User Reviews

  1. K

    The one thing that draws me to this story time & again is the people. Their stories, their hopes, their dreams. They were alive once. They loved, they laughed, they cried. At 33 years old they saw things i would never have to see. Who am i to judge them? I just hope & pray they are resting in peace. Jonestown was able to exist due to the type of world we live in. RIP To all those who lost their lives. I pray they found their way somehow.

  2. Drdocwilmot

    I liked the part where the guy is talking about Jim Jones f***ing guys in the ass and people are complaining that they are getting sh*t all over the place and one of Jones ass-istants says: U should have an enema before Jim f***s U in the ass... LOL... and even after that revelation, all these sodomites went to Guyana with Jones. Go figure!

  3. chopssv13

    You all need to do some more research, first it was congressman Ryan who visited, not a governor. Most of them never realized he lied to them, which he really didn't. They practiced "revolutionary suicides" regularly and they thought that committing suicide was better than being attacked and killed by the government, which Jones truly believed was going to happen.

  4. Sarcastic_Drew

    All those people truly believed what they were doing, and one single man was able to capitalize on their flaws, faults, and insecurities. It's sad to see this level of innocence destroyed that maliciously. :(

  5. Petros Petrosyan

    All the adults that died deserved it, for being so stupid and killing their own children. Three people with guns, so lets all 900 of us, drink this poison. Cowards, all of them, watching your baby son being fed poison by the mother and standing by. These people were stupid and deserved a slow death, but the tragedy is that by bringing kids and relatives into it actually killed them.

    1. JazminM

      They were not cowards they were humans. They believed in the word of equality and peace that Jim preached...these people were brainswashed. All they sought was happiness. Once they realized that the person they believed in had lied to them, and controlled them for so long. When outrage set loose and the governor was killed, babies were actually injected first forcefully...and ofcourse if your children die, you begin to feel hopeless and like you shouldn't keep living. Family and friends you have lived and worked with for so long all dying. The utopia you hoped and lived for was destroyed. I'm sorry but you have no right to say they deserved this form of death...I'm wondering if you would be lost (emotionally) if everyone you loved was dying around you, the way of life you were leading was false, your hope for the future gone...

  6. Aaron Hansome

    It's not possible for anyone to always do the right thing. If someone tells you their perfect, they're either lying to you or themselves. I may get it right some of the time, and maybe even most of the time, but never, due to my urges for instant gratification, sin, and selfishness nature, will I always get it right. That's why accountability in all things is imperative if I hope to leave a legacy of any real value. Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

    I have but one question for any leader; who do you submit to? You simply cannot lead wisely without being a follower.

    Aaron Hansome

  7. knowledgeizpower

    This was a sick sin shame all them little children and babies
    this makes me upset. And I don't know what this christian smith person down here was saying WTH :0

  8. anne ramsay

    First of all this all occurred at a very different time, segregation and racism was still at an all time high so for poor black people it was something to be a part of, something to make them feel more than just a skin color, for white people against racism it was a way to protest using more than just words, "walking the walk" . Second of all saying this is an example of socialism is beyond disgusting, this is an example of what religion can do when placed in the wrong hands. When people are poor, uneducated, fighting addictions they are looking for inclusion, love a place to be accepted...that can be a very powerful. If your life is filled with pain and misery and someone offers you "salvation" people can be manipulated very easily, thus allowing a man to convince you to not only murder your child but also yourself.

  9. Christian Smith

    shut up everyone that says he was evil and crap, well, he was a nice man, very gracious. Due to paranoia caused my haters, he went insane up to a crazy point yes, the ending was sad, yes, i dont agreee with him or the ones that drank the 'koolaid' butinstead of being lazy, try to be sympathetic.

    1. Olivia_Mayorga

      um your comment made zero sense.

    2. Epicurus

      sympathetic for a crazy man who refused to get help by seeing a psychiatrist and instead decided to ingest ample amounts of amphetamine and kill children by forcefully injecting them with poison, or forcing their parents to take poison at gun point.

  10. Darryl P

    People this is socialism!!!! The government and the media put out the same thing as jim jones did with those people. Promises that they will take care of you and everyone will be happy.And when the system sees it has you it will be too late. You as a person, what is inside of you is the only thing that will bring you peace. Its all about individuality not class or race. TRUE FREEDOM IS A INSIDE JOB!!!! And when you have that you have unity with all.

    1. joy white

      You sir, have no real idea of what socialism is, you must be american.

    2. AlekNovy

      That's the whole point. This is what socialism ends up in REAL LIFE.

      Whenever you commies defend against socialism failing EVERY SINGLE TIME ITS EVER BEEN TRIED IN HISTORY - you always bring out the "oh, but that wasn't real socialism"...

      But that's the point, utopia doesn't exist. Trying to achieve it always ends up in paranoid, delusional dictators.

    3. WiseGapist

      Anybody who uses the term 'commie' is a moron, it detracts from anything else you have to say, but i'll look past it...

      I agree, Utopia doesn't exist, but striving for Utopian ideals is a far better use of societal time & energy than saying, 'it will never work, lets uphold an unequal, unjust, failing structure because we're incapable of anything better.'

      Socialism has failed yes, but Capitalism has failed in far more damaging ways.. Artificially inflated value and sustaining greater levels of income/social inequality is certainly not success.^

    4. AlekNovy

      ""I agree, Utopia doesn't exist, but striving for Utopian ideals is a far better use of societal time & energy """

      No it's not. It has been disproven TIME AND TIME again. Anyone who has ever directed energy towards utopian ideals has always fuked up the society they were trying to utopize. EVERY SINGLE CASE - without exception.

      """ 'it will never work, lets uphold an unequal, unjust, failing structure because we're incapable of anything better.'""

      Nice commie reframe and word-twisting :)

      unequal =>

      Unequal is good, it's how evolution works, we're all different and unequal. You're probably taller than me (I'm a short guy). IS IT FAIR that you're taller than me and for you getting a date is much easier than me, a short guy? What you gonna do, institute leg-cutting for tall people to make everyone equally tall?

      EVEN IF you give EVERYONE the exact same resources, pay, job, and house - people will STILL live radically different lives and have different outcomes. EVEN IF YOU BANNED the ability of people to earn differently - PEOPLE WILL STILL get different results, simply because of life choices and where they choose to spend and how and on what. And contrary to commie propaganda, people are not equal. Some are more talented than others. It's basic evolution 101. People are born with different traits and talents.

      unjust =>

      Unjust is your subjective opinion commie. A commie's definition of justice is "We take from the talented and productive, and give to the lazy".

      To me that's unjustice. I've worked 16 hour days since I was freaking 15. I sacrificed my youth to succeed in life. And now the goverment takes from me, and gives my money to the "cool kids". The guys and gals who spent their youth in alcohol and drugs while I was working - so they now earn less as adults. That's my fault? I MADE THE SACRIFICES to be where I am today. I sacrificed my youth. I had zero social life or hobbies, but here I am today, outearning them all and now enjoying a life. So your commie definition of justice is that those lazy losers who never sacrificed get the fruits of my sacrifice?

      """Socialism has failed yes, but Capitalism has failed in far more damaging ways.. """


      Socialism => hundreds of million dead, many lost generations

      Capitlism => Not perfect and some people have their feeling hurts, wahahahaha, that guys makes more than me, bwhahaha unfair, me feeling hurt, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

      The only problem capitalism ever has is crony-capitalism, which is basically where socialism gets injected into capitalism. But even socialist-corrupted capitalism is always 100x better than socialism.

      If supposed capitalism is worse, THEN WHY ISNT EVERYONE MOVING OUT!?!?!?!? It's democracy of the feet. If supposedly capitalism has failed worse, then howcome everyone is running out of socialist countries and into capitalist ones, without exception.

      Even commies don't go move to socialist countries.

  11. ForeverDove

    Great people and a great man. Follow your ideals and beliefs to what ever end.
    Nothing great was ever achieved by not trying.
    Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.

    Forever forever.
    R.I.P Jonestown

    1. anne ramsay

      The fact you would call this mass murderer a"great man" is VERY VERY scary! Perhaps if you spoke to the relatives of the babies killed for no f*****g reason you would change your views.

  12. Wakethe____up

    Sounds a lot like Mormonism to me. The Mormon Church collects over 6 billion dollars a year from its members (one billion seconds ago, it was 1959....a billion is a LOT) the members are prohibited from using tobacco, drinking coffee, tea or alcohol. The temples are not used as places of worship open to all but instead used for ceremonies for the living and the dead to which less than 10% of members are allowed to attend. Geeze, how did this cult slip through the cracks? And....The whole religion is based on a dream that a 15 year old had where God introduced him to Jesus who told him not to believe in any other religion because they were all wrong. Oh yes, I almost forgot; if you're a good boy, when you die, you get to be a God and have a bunch of wives who populate your very own planet! Oh my, you just died and forgot to get baptized when you were alive? That's O-Tay cuz you can get baptized when you get to your new world and it still counts; VIOLA - transgressions forgiven! Mormons have an internal welfare system so members don't have to go to the local H&W for food stamps; they are provided for.....ringing a familiar bell yet? If history hasn’t taught you anything, you’re doomed to make the same mistakes…..seems as though this tragedy didn’t teach us anything….the Mormon church continues to thrive and consume the minds of our young, gullible, and weak. Hint: Don’t answer the door.

  13. tribeleah

    To all of those who has commented on this not seeing how anyone can follow after such a thing know that this is still going on today small children being brought in by their parents teens growing up in this and only to have a seperated life from the world from churches who teach love and seperation from wordly things and then do not live up to what they are praching and teaching. This still goes on today as I write this for "christians" talk it and preachers preach the gospel but are not living it at all, these wonderful people from different backgrounds take their walk in the so called "cult" very serious and unfortunantly are misled by a leader calling himself an endtime prophet! Pray that's what we have to do is PRAY!

  14. Estelle Roseland

    Oh, God.... This made me cry. This is just so tragic... I'm Christian, but I can honestly say, THIS is not Christianity, this is not faith.

    This is just one man, a sociopath, who went crazy and was unlucky enough to be charismatic and good at finding desperate people and then dragging them all down...

    I'm a writer, but there are no words for this.

  15. Cecilio Gumanay

    its a waste of life!

  16. Misa Amane

    I'm glad they died. People will always die for what they believe in; in the name of freedom, peace, democracy, science, etc.

  17. Smurf

    Im still amazed at what and who people will believe in when they have very little or no education. This isn't a single event in history this kind of thing has been happening for thousands of years. The human race has been held back for centuries by one religion or another, the darkages the inquisitions to name just a couple. There is still thousands of power hungry self absorbed murdering scumbags like Jones around who take advantage of the poor and uneducated and call it religion, governments or dictatorships. P.S this site is awesome!!!

    1. Sarah Browne

      Actually, a lot of people Jim Jones recruited in California were educated. It's hard to say why exactly they joined, but maybe the revolutionary atmosphere at the UCs in the 60s was infused with communist ideologies that jived with what Jim Jones was saying.

  18. peaceman

    wtf is wrong w/ people?? how can u be so blind? a complete waste of life, and for what? nothing at all...

  19. Lord Bob Fates

    Burning in hell where he belongs.

  20. Elizabeth Young

    Consequential of man's desire for happiness as opposed to man's desire for religion/God?

  21. Toodles

    Jones was a Communist and his followers were weak-minded and needy. Imagine selling your home in order to give the proceeds to a act of desperation.

    1. tribeleah

      You are a very ignorant person and anyone else who thinks that this cannot happen to them! You are weak minded......

    2. Alice Masterson

      Yea, not everyone is so weak that they would even think of such nonsense, let alone act on it. And no, it will not happen to me!! maybe you, but not me.

    3. Alice Masterson

      I totally think your right on!! What else could he be, and for his followers, weak minded. It was a few who did see the lite before it was too late. Imagine having to watch your loved one "drink the koolaid". These ppl are all about getting what they can, it might be sex, money or control over others. I wouldn't sell my home for my church, thats not what they want from me. It is a true act of desperation. And these ppl are desperate to the point of no return.

  22. Richie

    I was told this was a comedy. what a rip.

  23. Sarah T

    I have zero patience for ignorance. I cannot believe that people went along with Jim Jones and honestly I think the survivors that they show in this film are pathetic. Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that all these people manage to say by the end is, "we were trying to do something good.." WTF? You allowed your entire family to drink poison and die in your arms and all you can manage to say is, "we tried to do good??" I really hope these people find strong enough therapy someday.......

  24. Edaemus

    It's frightening how much evil can be in one man. It means there's no borders. Any human is able to be saint or truly evil. It shows us also that we never can be sure we're right. There's no truth seen be one man or any single man can say to others what should they do. We don't know the beast in our hearts. The Christ if he existed was only one.

  25. Dodgy

    I watched a doc once about this that had the whole tape of the night when they all died. They went deeper and went into those political ties this man had. They talked about how this cult was a mind control experiment. To see how far they could get people to go. Would you move from your family? Would you leave your country? Would you kill yourself if you were told it was the only solution? How far could a religion make people react.

    Already in this country people will get into fights over their god, how far can you take it. I'm sooo happy I left religion, it is such a farce and I feel pity for my family still into it. Had one brother leave it because he really didn't believe in god but when times got hard he said the idea of god gave him someone to hope will help.

    He went through a week of picking places out of the bible like prophecy and for guidance. That's how crazy religion can be. I told him... there aren't enough letters in that bible to account for every person that has existed on this earth. What makes you believe that entire phrases and truths are dedicated just to you?

    I cringe at what religion does to people but I understand why they follow. They fear death and the idea of an afterlife makes death less scary. They want to believe that there is a being doing checks and balances behind the scenes making righteous humans prosper. Fact is... it just doesn't work that way. Blaming all the pain in this world on a "satan" is just a copout. If your god gave a toadstool about you - it would intervene.

    It's sad to know you'll die because you feel life but without god that's just something you cope with - you don't crutch yourself on the afterlife but I don't think most people can handle that truth. They are just unhappy with this life and don't want to believe this is the hand they were dealt. That's the ego and pride saying surely I'm better than this mess, right? and my god is ready to give it to me - when I drink the koolaid.

    Religion is also good control over a population. Don't follow mans laws - follow your god's laws. Government doesn't care if I, as an atheist, will be following man's laws or if as a religious zealot I don't kill because god says not to. As long as I don't act up, that's all they need. The only good part about the religious law abider is that their community/bandwagon thought will influence them - just as happened in this doc.

    Not one of these people woke up that day and said I can't wait to die today (I would imagine). He suggested that to them. He had practiced it another time to see their conviction level. He made them perform it because they followed like sheeple do to another country and now to death. This doc should teach the lesson that just because my neighbor does it - doesn't mean I have to - unless my neighbor also believes in my god - that is a strong thing dontcha think?

  26. Linda McGuigan

    I found this documentary very well done if it had not been for the sad sad outcome. Yes religion has a very lot to answer for many thousand's have died in the name of god in one form or another it is time to wake up and not be dictated to.

    Linda ;-*

  27. Don Kelvin

    A true atheist, Jim Jones. No God, only he. His religion was true atheism. A real Democratic Party man, a "Progressive" of the same type we see in the White House and more importantly, Nancy Pelosis' vision of how government should take care of the people. This is a very timely doc.

    1. Tiffany Sunflower-Maria Strong

      I hope you are not stating that socialists and atheists agree with him? I was raised by hippies and am socialist and I am sure it makes me just as sick or more than you to see this. This is the type of dictatorship we fear from Christianity and Conservatism. People like Hitler and Jones use socialism and Christianity for their own benefit. If it were true socialism he would have been out there doing the work just as hard and he would not be running from government.

  28. Jim Jones

    I don't even know where to start to interpret this. This is well beyound the empty / joyous education of religion and its process of elimination of one-self.

  29. Black Pearl


  30. Kyle

    Who are the people who are always bamboozled by satan, or christ, or any other b.s. religious construct. Idio*s. Black or white, they come in all colors.....

  31. Black Pearl

    I don't know how black people would let a white devil like that control them......Like who are these people who where bamboozled by satan. What?

  32. Black Pearl

    Black people need to stay away from white devils...EVIL SATANIC DIRTY SPIRITES!

  33. Black Pearl

    He had you all!

  34. Rob

    Thankyou for putting this documentary up. I was an apprentice printer in 1978 on a daily newspaper in NZ, as I set the type containing this story into the forme, it was front page/stop press edition, I remember feeling shocked and freaked out and shuddering as i did it.such a scarey, bizarre day. R.

  35. James Hunt

    As shocking as this documentary is. Are we not forgetting that all the major religions of this World, have killed millions and will continue to kill millions of people in the name of their God, long before and long after Jim Jones existed, and how many people have died in the name of religion in the time it took to watch this documentary?

    As an Atheist, I feel completely exonerated from having any part in such wickedness!

  36. LR

    A great documentary. Very sad it was because of all those people that believed this drug addicted/heavy drinking white male was (basically) God. Why else would you follow a leader, allowing them to take control over their finances, mind, what they ate and everything else in their lives. This kind of religious guilt brain washing has been happening since Religions were written and formed self-serving people. What I realized also was that most of the people that weren't forced to kill themselves, were people that worked for him. Many of them knew what was coming and were smart enough to live in the city; away from that isolated "cemetary". What was shocking to me was when I saw the part about that overly confident Politician who decided to travel there with a few people without any armed gang of his own to rescue the few sane people that realized they were living in an insane asylum and wanted out after years of following their crazy leader. The Politian and some of his people were killed.

  37. Agatha McHenry

    This documentary was so well made and the subject matter broke my heart. I can't imagine what the survivors go through having to live with the memories they have.

  38. Ron W.

    The song in question is by Timmy Thomas, Why Can't We Live Together. It was released in 1973. It has been covered by Sade, Steve Winwood and Maria Muldaur to name just a few. The original by Timmy Thomas still stands as the best in my opinion. As if the song isn't depressing enough, seeing it used here with documentary makes it seem that much more heartfelt.

  39. PHUCKR

    whats the song that starts at 49:53?

  40. hmm

    .. is it just me ? does this whole thing kind of remind you of the LOST series?
    Jim Jones manipulates people like Ben.. except Ben is not perverted sleeping around with all the women. Anyway.. excellent docco.. amazing how people fall into these sects so willingly..

  41. Harsh

    OMG this is a very well made documentary, showing one of the worst mass killings in modern history, and one that will hopefully never occur again.

  42. Orchid

    this is such a well done documentary. It is so in depth, unlike the other ones I've seen. Thank you!

  43. Der Oberst

    Awesome documentary, exemplary journalism!!!

    5 out of 5 Stars

    Der Oberst