MG As I understand it, a lot of these theories stem from [the fact] that the government withheld documents related to Jonestown. I guess Congressman [Leo] Ryan had a bill pending, the Hughes-Ryan amendment, that would have required that CIA covert operations be disclosed to Congress before those operations could be engaged in. You didn't find anything related to that?
SN No, we didn't find any hard evidence. I'm trying to operate as a filmmaker and also as a journalist.
MG So you had access to material —
SN — and we just didn't find it [evidence].
MG I'd be interested in seeing what the original accounts were like in the local press in San Francisco during the time of Guyana and the Milk-Moscone murders. There was probably a sense of how Moscone's opponents might use his ties to the Peoples Temple for political purposes.
SN One reason for the article in [the magazine] New West that first exposed Jim Jones and called for an investigation of Peoples Temple was to discredit Moscone. Part of the media follow-up was that "here is someone that Moscone supported." So that was already happening around a year before the deaths in Guyana.
MG There are folks who find objectionable the idea of referring to the deaths as mass suicides. Did you reach a conclusion about that?
SN The film has no narration, so we didn't refer to that other than in a title card at the end that I think calls it the largest mass murder-suicide in history. It's impossible to say exactly what went on that day, but it is very clear that the kids — something like 250 people who were under 18 — were all murdered.
It was something we struggled with: "What do we call it: suicide or murder?" I think by the end of the film you feel that it's kind of both at the same time.
MG If Jim Jones had died in Guyana prior to Ryan's visit, is your sense in talking to the survivors or those associated with the church that this is a project that would have sustained itself?
SN I just don't know.
MG You don't want to engage in a bit of speculative history?
SN I think they had a real problem in sustaining themselves. They were growing food, but they were bringing in food too. Financially there was a burden.
One fascinating thing about that day is that there weren't a lot of people who left with Congressman Ryan — less than 20 people. It was more Jim Jones's insanity, him thinking that 20 people leaving is devastating [that led to the massacre].