It has been three years since I completed my trailer for my screenplay White Night: Survivors of Jonestown, which I hoped would help me bring the film to fruition. Simply put, I’m still working at it. While pitched, read, and briefly optioned in Hollywood, it’s proven to be an extremely difficult project to commit funding for. With the slashing of development funds by all major studios not to mention the subject matter, this is of no surprise. It’s also true, however, that recent films about San Francisco Bay Area history – like Zodiac and Milk – have demonstrated there is an audience for this work.
I realize there have been a number of movies which sought to exploit this tragedy. My film takes the opposite tack and seeks to dispel the common myths of Jonestown. Furthermore, it tells the true story of Jim Jones’ rise to power through political corruption in San Francisco and his ties with the politicians of the time. What Mullholland was to LA in the classic film noir Chinatown, Jim Jones is to San Francisco in White Night.
The film explores the tragedy in Guyana has affected a family in the present. I consciously chose young cast in order to reach out and engage this generation and educate them of one of the major tragedies of our time. Nonetheless, this film explores an often disenfranchised group, an urgent social justice issue as well as race relations – it involves an interracial family – and an important piece of history that should never be forgotten.
I have high hopes that this film will eventually be made. The script and the trailer – which was a finalist in the International Movie Trailer Festival last year – continue to be well received. The long-awaited memorial wall at Evergreen Cemetery, and the number of books on Jonestown published in recent months – including A Thousand Lives, Jonestown Lullaby, Jonestown: A Vexation, and A Lavender Look at Peoples Temple, among others – proves that interest in the subject matter remains strong.
I’m now in the grant application process with the San Francisco Film Society and hope to be approved and receive the funds so I can make this film. The script meets every point in their strict mandate for films and filmmakers with ties to the San Francisco bay area. If this project sounds interesting, feel free to view the trailer on the website at http://www.whitenightmovie.com/.
(Alex Smith can be reached at Alex.Skycycle@yahoo.com.)