No Church In The Wild: Act 2

Based on a True Story. Leslie Wagner-Wilson, trapped in Jonestown, a controlling, destitute settlement run by an increasingly manic Jim Jones, has grown increasingly disillusioned. Leslie’s husband Joe however, has risen through the ranks of the People’s Temple cult and, despite knowing of his wife’s unhappiness, is determined to keep her and their son in Jonestown. As conditions at the settlement deteriorate, Leslie grows more desperate, and along with a few other People’s Temple members, take a big risk for a chance at freedom, not knowing whether or not they’ll make it out alive.

  • Richmond Obeng
    Director
  • Bree Hemphill
    Writer
  • Richmond Obeng
    Producer
  • Erika Kelley
    Producer
  • Bree Hemphill
    Producer
  • Ashley Denise Robinson
    Key Cast
    "Leslie Wagner-Wilson"
  • Byron Thomas
    Key Cast
    "Joe Wilson"
  • Catie Zaleski
    Key Cast
    "Diane Louie"
  • Nick Osborne
    Key Cast
    "Tim Jones"
  • Rasheed Stephens
    Key Cast
    "Richard Louie"
  • Project Type:
    Short
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 35 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 14, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    30,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    RED
  • Aspect Ratio:
    2:1
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Los Angeles
    United States
    July 15, 2022
    American
    Outstanding Dramatic Directing
Director Biography - Richmond Obeng

Richmond Obeng is a filmmaker moved by thought-provoking authentic narrative. Starting his filmmaking journey directing commercials, music videos and branded content, Richmond quickly embarked on his own inspired path, focusing on creating stories grounded in truth and representation. These efforts include the award-winning and internationally praised anti-suicide short “Helping Hands”. Continuing on his mission to bring important stories to light, Richmond’s long-form debut came with his 2018 documentary “Some Sort of Judas”. The film looks at violence in the inner-city and its ripple effects on a grieving community through the narrative of Kevin Williams, a once promising rap artist who became the crown witness in a quadruple murder case against his own friend. Currently he is focused on adapting the story of Leslie Wagner-Wilson, one of the few survivors of the Jonestown massacre. The docuseries version of this story screened at American Black Film Festival in 2021, and received a nomination for ‘Outstanding Digital Series” at Micheaux Film Festival.

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Director Statement

The story of the People's Temple massacre is usually told as a white man's quest for power, influence and notoriety, leaving out the hundreds of African American people (the membership was 70% Black), primarily Black women, who were destroyed by his ego. In 2017, I stumbled across a book called “Slavery of Faith,” written by Leslie Wagner – Wilson, a survivor of the People’s Temple. The book isn’t widely known, but it should be, considering it’s one of the few People’s Temple stories written from a Black person’s perspective. I devoured it in one sitting. Blown away by how captivating it was. As a filmmaker, my first thought was “Is someone bringing this powerful story to the screen, because people need to see it.” I reached out to Leslie right away. A couple of messages and emails later Leslie and I finally got on a call. As with any regular phone call, we started with small talk. She commented on my accent; she thought I sounded British and Caribbean. I couldn’t hear it, but I get it from Americans a lot. Though I’m actually Ghanaian, I grew up largely in Toronto, where Caribbean culture was a big influence on my life. We shifted our attention to the book and if anyone was adapting her story to the screen. I got my answer right away. Hollywood had reached out to her a couple of times in the previous years. However, other than her being a consultant to other authors working on their own People’s Temple story, no one ever stepped up to the challenge of visualizing Leslie’s side of the story.

It was important for me not to make the story about Jim. I’ve felt like every story concerning this historical event has had its focus on him. The idea of him as an evil genius was just that – an idea. In the obsession with the egomaniacal demagogue, we’ve overlooked the actual human beings that his ego swallowed up. And beyond that, we overlook the human beings that are still alive, still dealing with the aftermath of that event. Jim Jones has been covered already. What fascinated me more was Leslie’s story. She was a Black girl who grew up in the 60s; not fully understanding what her skin color meant before the People’s Temple and the racism within it. Projecting itself as a culturally and racially inclusive organization made People’s Temple progressive for it’s time. It was supposed to be a place that championed the marginalized and uplifted the downtrodden. However, in reality the People’s Temple replicated the same inequality that it claimed to oppose. As much as she was learning how to be selfless within the temple, choosing selfishness ultimately saved Leslie’s life. Leslie was of course a rebel, but her courage is what makes her story so powerful. She went back to Jonestown under the guise of seeking redemption, when really she was there to rescue her son, who had been taken away from her by her husband, Joe, one of Jim Jones’ top security guards and an identified shooter in Congressman Leo Ryan's murder. That murder was the cataylst that set off the series of events that lead to one of the most horrific massacres to this day.

I knew we had to meet, so I told her I would come down to Phoenix. A person like Leslie, who has been through so much, doesn’t find it easy to trust people, which I understood. Before my trip, I visited the Liberty Village Police Station to have a police–stamped criminal background check. It came out clean; I sent her a picture of the certificate for proof. This was a specific request of hers. I recall my first impression of her, reserved, with her shoulders slouched. She didn’t trust me, and she looked at me as if she was trying to read me (a skill they taught her in People’s Temple, in case federal agents were ever after them). We met at Timo Wine Bar, and I dove into the book right away to give her time to warm up to me. We talked about some of the critical events; I shared my own opinion that turned into a perspective on her life that she had never considered before. It was a rather personal conversation. She began warming up to me. At some point in our meeting, I handed her my copy of the book so she could sign it. Later, she admitted that seeing all the notes and markings I made in the book was when she knew she could trust me with her story.

Her story need not be buried underneath the behemoth of the Jim Jones phenomenon. She represents so many people whose agency was stripped from them by a narcissistic maniac, and whose agency continues to be denied when they aren’t even the center of their own experience. Leslie is one in a number of voices that have been silenced and overshadowed, and she needed her story told.