What I learned by filming a Jonestown survivor

by John Borowski, filmmaker/author

When I began deciding which episodes to include in the first season of my TV Show, Serial Killer Culture TV, I knew I wanted to include the story of Laura Johnston Kohl, one of the few survivors of the Jonestown tragedy. Even though the show is called Serial Killer Culture TV, many of these cases and true crime tales fall under the same cultural umbrella. Charles Manson, for example, never murdered anyone himself but is continually lumped in with the culture because the acts of his followers were so heinous. Jim Jones was a mass murderer. He didn’t use a machine gun to shoot down his victims, but rather used his psychological control over his followers to convince them to commit mass suicide. In the end, it was murder.

Through reading her book, Jonestown Survivor, and interviewing Laura, I came to realize that every time the story of Jonestown is told, Jim Jones is the center focus. Yes, his character is fascinating, because he began with good intentions by desegregating his church, but eventually fell into a drug-induced paranoia combined with his failing health. It was a recipe for disaster. I chose to focus the show on Laura’s story rather than Jim Jones’. Many people have questions, the biggest of which is: Why? Why did Jones’ followers drink the Flavor-Aid? I am glad I had a chance to interview Laura and discover the real reasons behind that question.

We filmed the TV show episode during an exhibit of Jonestown artwork, artifacts, and pop culture items at San Diego State University Library’s Department of Special Collections in November 2015. It was amazing to see all the artwork created at Jonestown, the artwork inspired by the tragedy, the hundreds of FBI audiocassettes, and also all the books and other items created out of an attempt to understand what occurred in Jonestown. The exhibit illustrated how all of the lives of the people in Jonestown were affected.

I realize that it is society’s responsibility to listen to the stories of the survivors of Jonestown and attempt to understand how the tragedy occurred and what we may be able to do so that it does not happen again. It was a time where people wanted change, but I also realized that change can come from within and not necessarily by joining a cause or religion. The true change and understanding begins from within. Only then can we impart that knowledge to others and hope they understand the severity of the changes which must be made in the world to make it a better place.

I feel extremely honored to have met and interviewed a Jonestown survivor. The Jonestown tragedy is an important part of American history and there are many lessons to be learned.

My show, Serial Killer Culture TV can be viewed on Amazon Prime, and is also available on DVD. The show episode is episode 4, Jonestown Survivor. The show trailer is here. To view more of my works, visit JohnBorowski.com.

(John Borowski is an award-winning independent filmmaker and author whose works have garnered international acclaim and are distributed internationally on DVD, television and streaming.)

Last modified on October 28th, 2017.
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