Student Filmmaker Looks for Additional Interviews

by Jessica Distad

To the Peoples Temple Community:

In the spring of 2004, I completed a documentary about Jim Jones and Peoples Temple for a film production class at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I made my film to demonstrate the sincerity behind the concept of the Temple and to try to make some sense of its end in Jonestown. I contacted many of the Temple’s former members and relatives who read this report, and to everyone I spoke with, I would once again like to express my deepest gratitude.

As I made the contacts, the first question many of you asked was, why? Why make a film about Jonestown? I gave you one answer then. I think I can give you a better answer now.

A year ago I didn’t even know Jonestown existed. My roommate told me that last year was the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, and I started looking into it. I read the stories and the books that “professionals” have written. I also read your stories and your books. I thought about the adults and children who lost their lives, but couldn’t figure out why it happened. So, I came to you to learn more about a past to which I had never been exposed.

Having to film a documentary was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the Temple and the people who dedicated their lives to a cause. I spoke with several of you on camera, some of you over the phone, some of you through email. You opened your homes and your hearts to me. Listening to your stories, meeting you, and putting the past into perspective was an awe-inspiring experience. I cherish my memories of the time that I shared with you all. I get emotional thinking about it even now. You are truly amazing and beautiful people.

Our conversations and what I took away from this project has become a driving force in my present day life: I call my family living on the East Coast more frequently just so that they know I love them. I have become more motivated, living each day to its full potential. I’ve been examining my choices more clearly. The shy girl from Washington D.C. has been speaking up for herself. You may not realize it, but your lives have had a direct effect on me. I didn’t even realize how much until the editors of the jonestown report asked me to write this article.

You will all be happy to hear that I got an A in the class, and my professor referred me to several jobs for other documentary topics. The students who watched the film were all very amazed by your stories as well. I got so many questions, people wanting to know details and motivations. There is intrigue and mystery to the Jonestown incident. I suppose that’s why I sought this out in the first place, but it has become so much bigger for me. I also know there were no real answers to the questions of why Jonestown happened, but the inspiration I have drawn from you has engendered only a newfound respect and appreciation for the people around me everyday and myself.

On that note, I am eager and interested in talking with more of you. I think it would be excellent if I could have more conversations with individuals who would be willing to have their interviews distributed to people interested in the topic of Jonestown. Consider it a gift. I wouldn’t use any of my old footage (as I promised). I would only do this for friends and family and for you. Perhaps you would like something to share with each other?

If you think there is any merit to this idea, I hope you will feel free to contact me. My email address is codejesey@yahoo.com.

And once again, I thank you all.

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on March 13th, 2014.
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