Jesus Camp

"Extraordinary"

Jesus Camp Review


While young Americans are now regularly sent to fight in the Middle East, even younger ones are positioned on the front lines of a different battle, a self-proclaimed war within U.S. borders. The vigilant world of Evangelical Christianity regards children as a powerful voice, a precious line of defense, an invaluable vision of the future; in short, they are the foot soldiers in a cultural aggression that's chronicled brilliantly in this Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature.

As summarized in Jesus Camp's introduction, Evangelicals believe that members are "born again," an experience that doctrine describes as being provided by God. Followers practice their beliefs in a highly conservative manner that touches nearly every aspect of their lives. They are certain the world is a horrible place they must rise up and save, by any means necessary. They shun or feel sorry for non-believers. And they persistently drill this system into the minds of their children; in fact, according to the film, a substantial percentage of home-schooled children are members of Evangelical families. If you've ever wondered how today's adults perpetuate the belief that evolution never occurred, you'll wonder no more.

There aren't too many issues more sensitive than religion. Even if you've unquestionably devoted your life to one faith system, it can be hypocritical to question someone else's. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka) keep this understanding at the core of Jesus Camp, creating a movie that acts primarily as document -- the way many believe a documentary should -- and turns its back on any judgmental approach. Even if the film's subjects are unable to do the same.

Ewing and Grady take advantage of some opportune timing to place the film and the Evangelical world within a political framework; Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation coincides with the film's first week of shooting, allowing the filmmakers to get right to the true hot-button issue in America: Do, or should, religious beliefs have an effect on government and policy? Christian radio host Mike Papantonio is seen voicing his displeasure at those who think the voice of America should be controlled by the Evangelical version of the voice of God.

Papantonio's presence provides the only editorial balance of the film, and feels a little shoehorned (and occasionally staged). His is an important role, though, especially for those not educated to the wide-ranging and differing opinions Christians can possess. His opposite, the real "star" of Jesus Camp, is children's pastor Becky Fischer, a portly, sunny lady with a forensic skill and a serious agenda.

Depending on your point of view, Fischer is either a dedicated leader for today's youth or a manipulative horror exploiting kids to further her own beliefs. Her one-week summer camp puts it all out on the table for the viewer to see: Youngsters weeping in a sign of repentance, a unified congregation of kids chanting "righteous judges" in prayer for the Supreme Court, a gentleman using storytelling skills -- and plastic embryo models -- to convince young minds that abortion is murder. (Note: His size reference for a seven-week embryo is completely false, making him either uneducated or a liar to children. Which is worse?)

For those of us not in the Evangelical society, there is an astounding abundance of mind-jarring words and images in Jesus Camp, ranging from Fischer celebrating that kids are so "usable," to an impromptu meeting between 12-year-old Levi and not-so-squeaky-clean preacher Ted Haggard (embarrassed and ruined by personal scandal after the release of this film). But Ewing and Grady just seem to let it happen. Few music cues, no gratuitous close-ups. Their easygoing approach gives Jesus Camp an intriguing pace and works hard at demanding all judgment occur only in the eyes of the audience.

While many viewers may equate American documentaries with the one-sided presentation of Fahrenheit 9/11, Jesus Camp presents an important example of attempted impartiality. It not only works as a finely crafted documentary but as a capsule of cultural volatility for this decade. It will be no surprise if it's viewed as a modern classic in the decades to come.

Get behind me Satan.



Jesus Camp

Facts and Figures

Run time: 87 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 18th April 2007

Box Office USA: $0.8M

Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 88 Rotten: 13

IMDB: 7.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Producer: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Starring: Becky Fischer as herself, Mike Papantonio as himself

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