The thing about making the type of documentary film I’m making is that you have no idea where the story will take you. Information is the ultimate compass, in that the more you learn, the clearer it becomes where your next break could be.
With trips planned to head both to California and Guyana for interviews and research, it is very clear to me that, even at the point of being two years into the production of the film, the focus for me continues to be the need to strengthen the voice of first-hand accounts. The only voices that can truly tell this story are of those who were on the ground, those with direct ties to family and friends, so I will humbly continue the work of pursuing them. I say this even after having secured some excellent archival footage, because I know that the archival is only a supplement to the personal truth of survivors and others who were intimately involved or affected at the time. I am especially interested in those voices who never have been heard from before. After all, my goal is to examine the story from a new perspective and thereby offer new insights.
The reality for myself – as it is for other young documentary filmmakers – is that I don’t have an extensive track record to show to the people I want to interview. It requires a leap of faith on their part to agree to take the time to speak with you, to entrust their story to you. All I have in approaching these people is my father’s story – which I summarized in my previous article for the jonestown report – and my sense of responsibility to protect the integrity of their stories as much I protect his. That has served as the main reason for my success thus far and has helped me land my next interview. Nevertheless, I am extremely appreciative of those who have been supportive and will forever be indebted to those who appear on camera in the film.
As I’ve been developing the film over the past few years, I have also been existing in the world of the 2010’s and have been witness to how some of the same issues and questions faced by Peoples Temple are addressed today. I have been able to focus on the juxtaposition of current American society and that of the mid 1970’s as it pertains to race and the social ideals Peoples Temple aspired to. It has provided me with an additional layer of potentially interesting context within which I can frame parts of the story. Specifically of interest to me is the social climate that existed in California at the time of the mass exodus to Guyana and how it compares to that of today. I still have many questions, but it’s exciting that the answers remain my roadmap.
(Rotimi Paul is a graduate of Syracuse University and The William Esper Studio conservatory. He is an actor, writer and producer who currently resides in New York City. He is the Founder/Creative Director of Esselyn Angelina Productions. Surviving Jonestown marks his directorial debut. He may be reached at email@example.com.)