Documentary Film Focuses on Peoples Temple Location in San Francisco

by Heidi Petty

For those of you who have ever lived in a city, the story of moving is so common that people don’t blink twice. I finished school in San Francisco in 2004, and by 2008 I had moved five times, which is actually pretty reasonable. A couple months ago I bumped into a friend and we met up to work on a film. I asked him where he lived. Lo and behold, it was not only in one of my old apartment buildings, but in the exact same apartment.

This is what got me thinking about geography and space. I started to read some writings from Guy Debord on Psychogeography which talks about “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” This made me wonder: What is it about certain locations of the physical space that attract more traffic than others?

I had heard, read, and watched films on Peoples Temple but was still very interested in knowing more, especially since a huge part of the Temple functioned in San Francisco. Once again, not only did I find that I lived very close to its original location at the corner of Geary and Fillmore, but the space is now my local post office which I had visited frequently and never thought twice about its history. Making this film has changed my emotions about that corner forever.

Even though I knew it wasn’t the original Temple, I wanted to explore the building itself. I set up an interview with Mia Jackson who works there now and who lived in the neighborhood when the space belonged to Peoples Temple. I could see that there was a slight disconnection to what it once was. I then had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Jonestown survivor Jordan Vilchez who once lived there in the Temple’s San Francisco headquarters when she moved from Redwood Valley. She commented that the neighborhood essentially hasn’t changed. That shocked me, because almost every part of San Francisco gets a facelift every ten years.

Having those two realms mingle within in the film is where it came to life. I want my film – It Happened Here: Peoples Temple – to bridge the gap between the then-and-now of the physical space that the Temple once occupied, and perhaps bring to life the reality of geography around us, to show that an address is much more than a number.

I had a very enjoyable time talking and meeting all the people involved in making this film. It has made my work more connected to the history with the city where I live, work, and play.

(Heidi Petty can be reached at heidi.petty@gmail.com.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on January 23rd, 2014.
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