Story: The story of Jim Jones and The Peoples Temple now serves as a cautionary tale, a worldwide shock that would forever change how religious cults were viewed. Jones would bring people together under a banner of love and inclusion, raising his Peoples Temple to stratospheric heights and gaining a good deal of influence in the process. Jones and his followers would even take bus tours to spread their gospel and Jones would have his hand in politics, though his own social views were more progressive than most. When Jones took many of his followers to Guyana to pursue a communal lifestyle and one free from outside influence, things would of course take a darker turn. This episode of American Experience covers the rise and fall of The Peoples Temple.
Entertainment Value: I had seen this American Experience installment before, but even on a repeat visit, it remains insightful and well produced. A lot of footage on Jones, his churches, and even his compound exists and is included in this piece, including actual film taken on the fateful day. So you will see the sights of Jonestown as this chaos builds and then unfolds, including the assault at the Guyana airfield and Jones’ own words during the mass suicide. This kind of material really drives home how twisted and unsettling these events were, it is one thing to hear about horrific events, but another to see and hear the events yourself. Some of Jones’ media appearances, news stories, and sermons have also been included, so there is some superb first hand content here.
This is a feature length documentary, which allows enough time to revisit how Jim Jones started his climb up the religious ladder and the paths taken that led to Jonestown. Not all aspects of Jones and his church are explored in depth, but given the runtime involved, I think the right time is spent in the right places, to get across a lot of useful information. I wouldn’t have minded more depth on some topics of course, but overall, this piece balances threads well. The pace is brisk, never feeling drawn out or rushed, but that sweet spot in between. The production values in general are on par for American Experience, or in other words, polished and well crafted. If you have an interest in cults or true crime stories, give this episode of American Experience a spin.