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Jonestown (2007)

PBS Home Video

Cast: N/A

Rating: NR (Not recommended for children under 14)

Run time: 90 mins..

Genre: Documentary.

Verdict: Brilliant (see rating system)

This is a stunning documentary on the events that led to the biggest mass suicide/murder in history.

In November 1978, more than 900 followers of the People's Temple cult led by charismatic American preacher Jim Jones died en masse at their remote compound in the jungle of Guyana, South America. Most drank a soft drink laced with cyanide. Parents poisoned their children before killing themselves. Jones and several of his inner circle/bodyguards tooker a quicker route, dying from gunshot wounds to the head.

The "how" and "why" People's Temple came to such a horrifying end is explained here.

By 1978, People's Temple was in trouble. It had been founded in the U.S. by Jones years earlier and it wasn't long before allegations of sexual and physical abuse by Jones began to circulate. There were financial questions, too.

As extensive archive film shows, Jones could work a congregation and one-on-one seemed personable, amusing and completely trustworthy. Little wonder he was easily able to persuade people to give generously to support his "good works" - which included having sex with vulnerable young female followers.

Jones and many of his followers left San Francisco for Guyana in 1978, but when Congressman Leo Ryan heard some of them might be being held against their will he flew out with several aides and journalists to investigate. At first, the visit went well and Ryan was persuaded nothing was untoward. However, several People's Temple followers soon pleaded with Ryan to take them out of the compound and a sizeable number eventually wanted to leave.

Seeing his empire collapsing, Jones ordered his body guards to the nearby jungle airstrip, where they killed Ryan and several members of his group. Knowing U.S. and Guyanese authorities would soon arrive, Jones ordered his followers to kill themselves.

Among many chilling moments on the documentary is listening to audio tapes left running during the mass suicide in which Jones can be heard urging his followers to die.

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson and his team interviewed Jonestown survivors, former Temple members and relatives of those who died, putting together an unforgettable and very disturbing film on what happens when religion falls into the wrong hands.

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