Director: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady
Starring: Becky Fischer, Mike Papantonio,
Levi, Rachael, Tory
RunTime: 85 mins
Released By: GV & Archer Entertainment
Rating: M18 (Mature Theme With Religious
Official Website: http://www.archerentasia.com/jesuscamp
Opening Day: 23 August 2007 (Exclusively
at Cinema Europa, GV VivoCity)
A growing number of evangelical Christians believe there is
a revival underway in America that requires Christian youth
to assume leadership roles in advocating the causes of their
JESUS CAMP, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The
Boys of Baraka), follows Levi, Rachael, and Tory to Pastor
Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire" summer camp in Devil's
Lake, North Dakota, where kids as young as 6 years-old are
taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in "God's
army." The film follows these children at camp as they
hone their "prophetic gifts" and are schooled in
how to "take back America for Christ." The film
is a first-ever look into an intense training ground that
recruits born-again Christian children to become an active
part of America's political future.
As in The Boys of Baraka, JESUS CAMP focuses on a group of
children experiencing a set of environmental circumstances
different from those generally considered the American “norm.”
Both films cast a sensitive eye on their subjects and ask
audiences to consider the profound questions that surround
how individual upbringing shapes personality and overall worldview.
“Jesus Camp” has its own crossfire to bear. Perhaps
the biggest burden that its filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel
Grady are forced by their detractors to overcome are the accusations
of being part of an uber-leftist, anti-religious agenda. It’s
an individualistic venture to be sure but one with a philosophy
undertaken that maintains the filmmakers’ subjectivity
(even as it purports objectivity) and in its most distilled
state, a continued articulation of the waging culture war
in Middle America. With “Jesus Camp”, it seems
like at least one side now has an upper hand.
Ewing and Grady’s apparently unrushed observations lies
a construct of a horror film, set in the unassuming heartlands
of the country. The heightened tension eked out of its creepy
ambience and exaggerated scores ultimately threatens to invalidate
its composite, as if trusting the inherent verities of its
expansive subject would be insufficient. But to its documentarians’
credit, the horror story that they’ve attempted to craft
ends up being quite chilling in spite of its discernable engineering.
The real brunt of its repulsion comes from the understanding
the human capacity for zealotry and the lines that are being
becomes part and parcel of the belief system that the Pentecostal
Pastor Becky Fischer preaches at her "Kids on Fire"
camp in North Dakota. Awkward prayer sessions extolling the
staples of the harshest right wing conservatism becomes a
facet of the Bush syndrome flowing through the congregation.
Fischer’s candidness in front of the camera reveals
a woman who was brought up on the very system she vehemently
advocates, fueling a legacy being passed on to her charges.
There’s no sense of her being anything other than what
she presents herself to be and what she believes to be true.
Then again, the filmmakers do show politics rearing its ugly,
disingenuous head in the form of New Life Church’s influential
founder, Ted Haggard whose smugness in this film was worn
down considerably when a scandal broke just weeks after the
film’s release of his trysts with a young, male prostitute.
It’s an apt precursor to know that his smarmy, distrustful
façade during his interview hid the hypocrisies that
realistically thrive in organisations.
silent juxtaposition of the varying degrees of radicalism
is the film’s strongest intrigue. Routinely comparing
the fanaticism involved in Jihads and the veritable boot camp’s
preparation of its young ‘uns, Fischer adds to the militaristic
inclination of her fervour and readies kids who are as “committed
to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the
cause of Islam” and that she’d like to see them
“laying down their lives for the gospel". For all
the polemicising rhetoric against the enemy and the constant
threats from terrorists, to Fischer and her brethren, the
biggest menace remains the unbelievers in their very own nation
seen when a large part of her sermons are spent on persecuting
pop culture and skewing the natural inclinations of her young
contingent to the most literal passages of the bible. The
three preteens featured in the film maintain an innocence
that becomes all the more sympathetic when we sense the disconnect
between their childhood and their parents’ ideologies.
deriding the war of cultures being waged by the fundamentalists,
this documentary becomes a part of that very war and slings
its own weight around when it enlists the harshly sweeping
anti-fundamentalist views of Christian Air America radio host
Mike Papantonio as a foil, even with its previous interviewees
damning themselves to the audience (vis-à-vis the documentary’s
tone of encroaching terror) and giving enough ammunition to
the converted, suggesting that the film is not entirely as
evenhanded as it proposes to be.
(A subject worth discovering for its many nuances
involved, but not so much the undisputable horror that the
film tries to hammer in)
by Justin Deimen