Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle is a documentary that takes a four-hour look at the horrors of Jonestown massacre and its painful aftermath on the 40th anniversary of the tragedy in People’s Temple Guyana. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Davisson Killoran, the series released in USA and Sweden on November 17, 2018, on Sundance TV.
Jonestown massacre (November 18, 1978) is the infamous mass murder-suicide carried out at the Jonestown agricultural commune, Guyana by the members of the Peoples Temple cult based in California. The heinous act was carried out at the behest of the charismatic leader, Jim Jones who the members revered and looked up to. He was known to be paranoid. An estimated 900 people were recorded to have succumbed to their deaths, of which over 300 were under the age of 17. The incident goes down in American history as possibly the largest mass death to have ever been recorded.
In the last 40 years, many books, documentaries and scripted projects have sought to document the harrowing story of what happened in rural Guyana on that gruesome day. As people have watched more than a couple of previous investigations of Jonestown, Jim Jones and the People’s Temple over the years, they agree that Terror in the Jungle is one of the most accurate descriptions of what went down on that fateful day. The interviews are candid, as much as they can be within the subjects’ ability, and the period footage is unsettling. And once director Shan Nicholson’s four-hour series closes upon the ultimate terror, it takes the form of a gripping nightmare that’s hard to look away from.
Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle Cast: Who’s in it?
The mini-series’ cast includes Jason John Cicalese as the main character, Jim Jones. Matt Zako stars as the U.S Congressman Leo Ryan. Other prominent characters include Jack Schrader as Vernon Gosney and Maria DeCotis as Jackie Speier. Larry Layton, the only person ever to have been tried for the massacre, is played by Ian Whitt.
Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle Plot: What’s it about?
Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle follows the chilling account of the Jonestown Massacre by Jeff Guinn in his book ‘The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.’ The four-part documentary digs deep into archives, classified documents, unseen photographs, confidential conversations recorded by the FBI and CIA, and features interviews with the survivors of the massacre as well members of the Jones’ family whose versions haven’t previously been documented. Using these, it puts together an outline that aptly tells the story of Jim Jones who first started his first church in the mid-1950s in Indianapolis.
At that time, Jones did not affiliate with any particular church group or had any training in that aspect. He named his congregation Peoples Temple and was known for being racially inclusive, which was quite progressive at the time as Jones himself was famously white. In the mid-1960s, along with his wife, he set up the Peoples Temple in California, and the duo themselves settled outside the town of Ukiah with some 100 followers. This decision was fueled by their belief that the move would protect them in the event of a nuclear calamity.
In 1970, Jones began holding church services in San Francisco, and by 1972, he had opened another temple in Los Angeles. He had many friends amongst the politicians and the press in California and became a churchman held in high esteem. As he displayed mind reading and faith healing capabilities, he reached thousands of followers who looked up to him, a large percentage of whom were African-American.
While the Peoples Temple actively promoted humanitarian causes within its own community, Jones treatment towards his followers was uncompassionate, to say the least. Temple members were regularly treated with a lot of humiliation, often beaten, and blackmailed. Many were forced and pressurized into signing over their possessions, including their homes to the church. The Black population of the group and members of other minority groups were made to believe that if they left the Peoples Temple, they would be arrested and kept in government-run concentration camps. He broke up families, and members were kept apart and encouraged to snitch on one another. In 1977, after the journalists started raising questions about Jones’s operation, he moved along with a large number of his followers to Jonestown, a walled, secluded area that he had been building in Guyana for a few years.
In November 1978, Leo Ryan, the US Congressman paid a visit to Guyana to inspect the group’s activities and the Jonestown compound as he was investigating rumours that members of the cult were being held in captive and were regularly subjected to physical and mental abuse. Temple members attacked the airstrip which Ryan and the group were to use while departing. Five people including the Congressman were shot and killed, and another 11 were wounded severely. In the wake of the shooting, Jones gave radio orders for Temple members outside the compound to commit suicide.
Shortly after that, Jones enacted his revolutionary suicide plan at the compound, which members had allegedly practised previously, and meant gulping down a fruit drink that was laced with cyanide, tranquillizers, and sedatives. Jones himself died of a gun gunshot that he fired. It is said that less than 100 Temple members in Guyana survived the massacre. The Peoples Temple was effectively broken up after the incident and declared bankrupt at the end of 1978. The only Temple member Larry Layton was tried in the United States for his involvement in the November 18 events. Larry was found guilty of conspiracy and in aiding and abetting the attack that led to the murder of Ryan. He was also declared guilty for the attempted murder of U.S. embassy official Richard Dwyer. He was released in 2002 after being sentenced to life in prison.
Jonestown Terror in the Jungle Season 2 Release Date: When will it premiere?
Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle season 1 released on November 17, 2018, on Sundance TV. Since the show was produced as a miniseries, it is unlikely that there will be another season. It is, however, likely that Sundance TV will possibly come up with a similar show investigating an incident of interest from the past. Or it might follow the survivors of the massacre to paint the aftermath of the incident and highlight the impact it has had on the lives of those connected to it. The extended versions of the episodes aired on March 30, 2019.
We should hear about the future of the series soon enough and if renewed, expect it to release in early 2020. In the meantime, the channel has announced that they will now launch a companion podcast for the series. Amanda Knox has been roped in to host the Seven-Episode Podcast series which is expected to release on Sundance Now, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts.
Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle Trailer:
While there is no word on the second season or its release date, you can catch all the four episodes of the docu-series on Prime Video.
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