Jonestown: Paradise Lost

On Nov 18th, 1979, a horrific suicide was committed in Jonestown, Guyana. A community called The Peoples Temple had died from cyanide poisoning, injections, stabbings or being shot.

Digging into the case showed conclusive evidence that over 900 men, women and children, some willingly and other not, had taken their own lives at the behest of cult leader Jim Jones.

To understand what led to the horrific tragedy, Jonestown: Paradise Lost looks into the cult’s story, the people in it, and eventually tracks down the build-up to the horrific day. 

By utilizing archival footages, interviews with surviving cult members and their families, the U.S. government information on the Jim Jones cult and dramatic re-enactments, the film seeks to take the viewer deeper into the inner workings of the cult and their ultimate end.

Jim Jones was the leader of the Peoples Temple, a ministry he himself started in 1955 in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. At its height, members reached a size of 3,000–5,000.

Jim Jones rose to prominence through the church, captivating and luring people in by sheer charisma, religion and a pretence of ideology: everyone is equal despite race and class equality, social justice must be unequaled and the importance of desegregation.

Despite working to racially integrate Indianapolis, Jones kept a mostly-white leadership over his 70-percent African-American congregation. He sexually abused members and performed fake “healings” with chicken entrails.

Yet he was dedicated to fair healthcare for the elderly and at-risk youth, establishing many residential care homes with his wife Marceline, a nurse.

Jim took his followers to Guyana in part because he felt it was the best place to survive a nuclear apocalypse, and in part because a magazine exposé of his mistreatment of Peoples Temple members was about to be published. In Jonestown, his drug addiction and paranoia deepened.

Congressman Ryan’s visit seems to have triggered Jones’s push for the community to commit “revolutionary suicide.” by drinking cyanide-laced grape-flavored “kool-aid”.

As the FBI joined the scene after the mass suicide, a 45-minute audio recording of the suicide in progress was found. When members apparently cried on the audio, Jones counseled:

Stop these hysterics. This is not the way for people who are socialists or communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity. Don’t be afraid to die, death is just a stepping over into another plane. It’s a friend. (…) We didn’t commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.

The first journalist allowed into Jonestown after the massacre said that: “even dogs and the Jonestown pet chimpanzee died alongside the residents.”

Did anyone survive Jonestown?

Yes, sources claim 87 Temple’s members survived, the majority of those were living in Georgetown at the time of the mass suicide. A full list of names of the survivors can be found here.

Jonestown: Paradise Lost
  • Info
  • Release date2007
  • Full runtime
  • Director(s)Tim Wolochatiuk