Jonestown: A film concept

by Keanan O'Carroll

Peoples Temple. When I hear the words now, I am nourished by what I’ve learned over the last few years of research with a healthy sense of inquiry and a balanced perception. I am so determined to bring this story to life, much of my thought is bent on it and when I think of how powerful story could be told to a wider community who would listen and be moved by the dreams of Peoples Temple, I am encouraged to focus on what could be done.

With the correct support, I am wish to direct a feature film bringing the organization and the life and destruction of Jonestown into sharp, unflinching focus.

When I first started learning about the Temple prior to the events of that day in 78, I was fascinated by what I saw. I saw an arrowhead driven down into the entrenched socio-racial structures of the United States, I saw the purest values of family and integration flourish in an intimate yet thoroughly welcoming socialist environment, and I saw an understanding of the cohesive nature of human interaction and love. And, of course, my heart aches at the brutal loss of it all in one sweeping hit.

As for Jonestown, instead of reviling, I ask myself what was so powerful that so many would die for it. I may be taking liberties in saying that it wasn’t Jim Jones, but I believe it almost definitely was not. Would I be correct to assert that, as deadly charismatic as any a figure of history past, he represented only a small part of what the people of Jonestown were trying to achieve? When I think about that, I think about a future without racism, without the marginalization of the poor, without poisonous religious capitalism. I think about a considered, measured approach to the values of human decency.

What ripple effects of the good that came of People Temple have tempered the lives of Americans and indeed the world today?

I am truly humbled by the accounts of the survivors. Their stories of the positive elements of Peoples Temple are as fascinating as their experiences of those final days.

When I contemplate the film version of Jonestown, I am aware of a few things. First, many have tried and failed miserably due to their fixation with the carnage of November 18th 1978. Secondly, I am aware that others who have approached the events with a different method have indeed created moving and educational documentary material with the full support of the survivors and the wider Peoples Temple community. Finally, through my own research, it wasn’t difficult to observe the widespread desire to lay a path to a more comprehensive understanding of Peoples Temple and what its members were trying – and in many ways succeeding – to create in their labours across America and finally in Guyana at The Peoples Temples Agricultural Project.

Yes, other filmmakers may be sniffing around the Jonestown concept. I couldn’t care less. My vision for this film is the only one I care about. My vision is the only one I can see doing the memory of those people justice and bringing this most dynamic and powerful chapter in human history to light for all to understand.

I wish to speak to survivors. I want to learn more. I want to learn everything. I want opinions from any and all who would put them forward in the interest of telling a balanced story and not wasting my time. I could be wrong. but I don’t feel that people want Jonestown buried out in the jungles of Guyana with nothing more than some obscure and terrifying story of what happened there. I wish only to tell the story, that’s all.

I have no interest in spooking straight-to-DVD viewers with horror stories, for it’s only when a person sees that it wasn’t just human life that was lost that day, that they can then see the loss in its entirety.

(Keanan O’Carroll can be reached at

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 27th, 2013.
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