Twenty-eight years later, what's left to say about Jonestown? Nine hundred members of a religious cult followed their fanatical leader to Guyana and willingly committed suicide by drinking a Kool-Aid-like mixture laced with cyanide.
What more could there be to the story? Plenty, it turns out.
I watched an advance copy of the new documentary, "Jonestown," by filmmaker Stanley Nelson on Sunday, and found myself drawn deeply into a macabre tale that I had little prior knowledge of.
Nelson interviewed more than two dozen former members of Jim Jones' controversial Peoples Temple, including some who survived the Jonestown mass suicide -- which, by the way, looks more like mass murder now. And Nelson has unearthed dramatic video and sound recordings -- never seen or heard before that shed new light on the establishment, development and downfall of the Peoples Temple, right up until the moment Jim Jones passes out the cups.
The most chilling part of the film is the audio tape of Jones urging his followers to choose death over persecution. I heard, for the first time, the emotionally-pitched debate between Jones and parishioners who would rather live than die in the South American jungle. It was like a scene out of Apocalypse Now, only this time, the killing was real.
I also learned that Jim Jones didn't suddenly take a hard left onto the highway of darkness. He was deeply disturbed from childhood, and is even suspected of abusing animals, something many experts believe is a hallmark of an emerging psychopath.
What's most tragic though is that Jones' followers don't come off as a cult of religious deviants. They were -- for the most part -- earnest people, attracted to the Peoples Temple for the sense of community they couldn't find in their own lives. It gave them a feeling of belonging, though as the years wore on and Jones' insanity escalated, membership came at an ever-increasing, and in the end, ultimate price.
We'll take a look at this tragic story on tonight's program.
Movie Web site: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple