DOASKDOTELL MOVIEW Reviews about Waco-Related Films, and Jonestown-Related Films:

Waco, TX (1993)

Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997, New Yorker, dir. William Gazecki, 165 min, R) is a documentary of the siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, TX in 1993 between the FBI and the cult, led by David Koresh, leading to the burning of the property on April 19, 1993, a date that would ring in infamy for much of the extreme right. I visited the site with a friend in late March 1993 (you could get within a half mile of it, or watch it from an overpass), and was driving back to work on that day in April when I heard Pat Buchanan describe the fire in real time. Of course, this incident became symbolic of the right of people to defend their property rights and defend themselves from government intrusion (hence the second part of the title of this movie), and became associated with the Second Amendment battles. The Clinton administration claimed that Koresh was abusing children. The first raid was in late February, 1993 and (besides the first Word Trade Center bombing) as one of the first tests of the administration and of attorney general Janet Reno.   

In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco (1993, Lions Gate/Patchett Kaufmann, dir. Dick Lowry, 98 min, R) tells the story of Waco up to the day of the Raid on February 28, 1993, mostly from the point of view of the Branch Davidians. Tim Daly is an attractive, virile, hairy-chested David Koresh, and you wonder why he needs to become such a fanatic. At first he seems like a good manipulator of the Bible, put soon he is twisting it into polygamous demands, which will include female partners as young as 12. There is some historical doubt of the accuracy of these claims. In the meantime, the ATF builds up its evidence, which was a bit speculative. The last twenty minutes of the film show multiple casualties in the violent raid, but the film does not cover the following 51 day siege or the fire on April 19; there is merely a written trailer at the end to summarize that. That may be because this film was made in 1993, so soon after the incident or perhaps during it. For a factual history, see

Assault on Waco (2006, Discovery Channel) is a historical account of the siege of Waco in 1993. The original siege on Feb 28, 1993 was undermined by a newspaper leak, so casualties were high during the ATF raid, resulting in a siege. Soon, the team would learn of the polygamous nature of the cult. Although that has been disputed, it seems backed up by facts and testimonials of former Davidians in the film. Electricity was turned off, and the weather in mid March was unusually cold for Texas (the East Coast had a blizzard at that time). The psychological warfare with the noise assault was controversial. Toward the end, the ATF and FBI feared a Jonestown suicide situation. On April 19, 1993, the siege would come to a fiery end, which I heard live on the car radio with Pat Buchanan announcing.

Children of Waco (2007, TLC, 45 min). Some of the children (21) of the cult members were removed and taken to a Methodist home in Waco shortly after the FBI standoff began. But 25 children were in the compound when the FBI and ATF assaulted it on April 19, 1993. All died. The government thought that the gas masks would not fit the children and that cult adults would leave the building to protect the kids from the CS gas. That did not happen. The film ends with a brief interview with Sky Okimoto, now 18, son of David Koresh, and now an art student in New York City. 

Jonestown, Guyana: 1978

Jonestown: Paradise Lost (2006, History Channel, 120 min) is a straightforward documentary of life in Jonestown Guyana, up to the day of the mass suicide at Congressman Ryan's November 1978 visit. The web reference is  The story today invokes memories of Waco, but the incident happened during the much more "collectivist" Carter years. The Wikipedia detail of the tragic story in here:  Toward the end of the film, the desperation of the people who want to leave is apparent, and even the Congressman will be gunned down. In the early days, the people had believed in their cause, in seceding from what they saw as an evil world that offered nuclear war and concentration camps for blacks; yet in their revolutionary zeal they succumbed to the same kind of authoritarian corruption that they tried to protest.

Jonestown: The Life and Death of the Peoples Temple (2006, Seventh Art/PBS/WGBH, dir. Stanley Nelson, wr. Marcia Smith, 85 min, sug. PG-13, 85 min, USA). This film, with a theatrical release, gives more history and develops the life of Jim Jones (1931-1978) and the various stages of the Peoples Temple. Jones was born "on the wrong side of the tracks" and developed both a controlling, manipulative personality and odd kind of empathy for others. He started his socialistic churches in Indiana in 1953, when the idea of integration would have sounded progressive (and threatening to segregation). He also took the Gospel idea of owning property in common literally. He moved the church to Ukiah, CA in 1965, north of San Francisco. In California the church migrated from Pentecostal "black church" to an authoritarian cult that combined Marxism (which is itself atheist) with literal Christianity. Member turned over all of their income to the cult, in exchange for being "taken care of." For a long time, the arrangement seemed to "work" for many people. You give up your whole sense of individuality for the experience of the group. Not for me. If you don't do anything at all with your own life by yourself, how do you accomplish anything? By praising the Lord?

In time, Jones moved his temple to San Francisco, where it would be burned down once. He could claim that the government was after them. He helped George Moscone win the mayorship (setting up his 1978 assassination) and held a position in the San Francisco housing authority. In 1977 he moved the commune to Guyana, and tried to establish "heaven on earth." His own behavior would become more obviously self-aggrandizing. He would tell his flock that he was the only heterosexual in the group, that homosexuality was a kind of humility (giving up spreading your own seed); even though he had several sons, he would offer to sodomize other members, including men. Learning of complaints that members could not leave, Rep. Leo Ryan visited in November 1978, leading to the sudden confrontation, shootings on the airfield, and mass suicides of 909 people, some of it shown with graphic footage.

Escape from Jonestown (2008, CNN, 100  min) is another documentary, narrated by Soledad O'Brien, emphasizing the survivors who escaped, those who were sentenced, and Jones's desire to be remembered by "history."     

Inside a Cult (2008) (Strong City NM)  here.

Return to movie reviews

Return to strike page

Return to home page