After the special preview showing of "Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple" at a movie theater in Silver Spring, Md. on June 17, Hollywood director Stanley Nelson, took nearly a dozen questions from a capacity audience.
He announced that this movie is scheduled for broadcast on Public Broadcasting in 2007 – and will go to movie theaters this fall.
I found this film to be effective in what it reported. But it was appalling in what it failed to report.
This failure very much resembled the 1972 failure of all but two major newspapers in the United States to report the major exposes of Jim Jones in a series of Page One stories in the San Francisco Examiner, as well as the Indianapolis Star, in September 1972.
Had the rest of major media followed up these Examiner-Star exposes of Jones, it is very probable that this could have saved the lives of Jones' 912 victims in Guyana in 1978.
At this Maryland theater I asked:
Q: Mr. Nelson, in your interview with Matt Gonzales of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, you are quoted as saying: ''The article in the magazine New West that first exposed Jim Jones.''
And my question – I have two questions – is how could you say this, when years before New West, both the San Francisco Examiner and the Indianapolis Star, in September 1972, had a series of Page One stories, exposing Jones; with the Examiner being picketed by 150 of Jones' people, and the Examiner reporter being made No. 2 on Jim Jones' hit list?
Stanley Nelson: May I ask you who you are?
Q: I'm the San Francisco Examiner reporter. (Applause)
Nelson: What is your name, sir?
Q: My name is Les Kinsolving.
Nelson: Um, you know, part of what happens in documentary filmmaking is we're not able to tell all the info – I really don't' want to get into an argument about this. But I'm not able to tell the ins and outs of the story. What happened is that we spent a lot of time with Kinsolving's report. And-and-and how that fit in the story. The problem with-with-with that was that it kind of didn't go anywhere. You know that it was – it was the first expose of Jim Jones.
But it didn't stop Jim Jones. It didn't stop Peoples Temple. The New West article is what really pushed Jim Jones and Peoples Temple to go to Guyana.
So we were really aware of what that article said and really wanted to work it in.
There were a number of things in this story. There were things in this story than any film I have ever made, that aid – we kind of could not include-uh-because it was just such an intricate fascinating story. There were a lot of fascinating stories that – hopefully some of these stories will be on the DVD.
Q: Last year in March, the Associated Press and 10 California dailies, as well as the Washington Times reported that Jim Jones' former legal adviser, Tim Stoen, sent a handwritten apology to the former San Francisco Examiner reporter ''who first publicly exposed the Peoples Temple,'' asking that reporter: ''Forgive me. You were right about the Peoples Temple. I was totally wrong.''Why is this missing from your movie?
Nelson: The film does not talk about anything after November 18, 1978. So none of that is involved. But you know the story of Tim Stoen is a fascinating story – again another of the stories we wish we had been able to include. Tim Stoen was Jim Jones' main legal adviser. Tim Stoen signed an affidavit that he authorized Jim Jones to father a child with his wife. And that was one of the things that actually led to disaster at Jonestown. That was another one of these incredible stories that we just couldn't cover on this film, because we just didn't have the material to cover. So there were a lot of things, you know, ins and outs that we just couldn't cover. In this story, we got 90minutes. It could have been a mini-series.
Director Nelson's next questioner – from a microphone across the theater – came from the only other person whose identity he requested. My son, Tom Kinsolving, a teacher, who asked among other things about the following:
I think there are some valid points here – what do you edit out, what do you leave in? For example, using Rebecca Moore (one of Nelson's film narrators), I think it's very significant to report that her father was a propagandist for Jim Jones –
Nelson: That's not true at all!
Tom: They (Moore's parents) went down to Jonestown – if I could just finish – could I finish? They (Rev. and Mrs. Moore) went down to Jonestown – if I could just finish; they went down to Jonestown in May of 1978, right before that holocaust.
Nelson: Could I ask your name sir?
Tom Kinsolving: My name is Tom Kinsolving, and I've known him as long as I can remember.
Nelson: You're his son?
Tom: Absolutely. And I was very hurt that you didn't answer my e-mail, Stan. They defended Jim Jones and Jonestown. And I think these are important issues. Your film is a propaganda piece. I think you ought to do some editing! – Oh, you take away my mic? Take your hands off me! (This as an usher grabbed the microphone and Tom).
Nelson: You know it's 30 years almost after this happened. You know there are some questions I'd be glad to answer privately, but I don't think we need to fill up our time here, because we do have a limited amount of time.
(If this had been an interview rather than a Q&A with a capacity audience, I could have added the following questions:)
Question No. 1: Berkeley, California Methodist District Superintendent John V. Moore, on Aug. 21, 1975 wrote:
"I have known the Rev. Jim Jones and the work of the People's Temple for a number of years. I have been impressed with the quality of community life of the church and their service to the people who are unrelated to their church."
On Aug. 2, 1975, the Rev. Mr. Moore wrote me: "Your questions also were implying sinister motives and actions to my daughters. If you ever write or say anything of this sort, I will immediately turn the matter over to my attorney."
While one of Moore's daughters was featured in this movie, why was there no mention of her father's strong support of Jim Jones?
Question No. 2: You have not denied the San Francisco Bay Guardian's quoting you as saying it was "the article in the magazine New West that first exposed Jim Jones."
Now you have just told us that "Kinsolving's report … was the first expose of Jim Jones."
How can Kinsolving's reports – and the New West article six years later – BOTH be what you have designed as "the first expose of Jim Jones"?
Question No. 3: You said you "spent a lot of time with Kinsolving's report." Why do you refer to that in the singular, when The Examiner published, in September 1972, four reports of mine on Jim Jones, three of them on Page One? And why no mention of a similar series in the Indianapolis Star? I went to religion editors at 40 daily newspapers including the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times begging them to send reporters – which they all refused to so.
And therefore, 912 people were murdered or persuaded to kill themselves by this murderous psychopath – in the worst moral disgrace in the history of American journalism.
Question No. 4: Your statement "The story of Tim Stoen is a fascinating story." But are all scenes in your movie more fascinating that Stoen, the deputy district attorney, who became Jones' chief legal adviser and who provided his wife for Jones to father a child with – after Stoen left the People's Temple and Jim Jones designated him as No. 1 on the hit list?