Thursday, January 25, 2007

Jesus Camp

This is inherently difficult to review. Like any controversial documentary, if you agree with it, you love it, and if you don't, you hate it. I'll come right out at the beginning and say that I agree with it.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady were at the helm for this movie. They are the duo responsible for 2005's amazing documentary "The Boys of Baraka". For this outting their target is the Evangelical religious groups in America. The vast majority focuses on a religious camp run by Becky Fischer. She is fanatical about her religious passion, which is shown not only during her preaching, but also by the exhaustion she clearly suffers running this camp. The film also focuses on several youngsters who attend this camp, and who are as equally fanatical as she is. First is Levi, a devoted pre-teen who is actually a skilled orator practiced in preaching. If he is this impressive at this age, he could be very powerful when he gets older. Also featured is Tori, a little younger than Levi and extremely active. Many scenes involve her literally bouncing around the screen, her mouth running a mile a minute- just as a child her age should be acting. This normality ends, however, when she goes up to strangers on the street and tries to talk to them about Jesus.

Some of the scenes in this movie are very funny. but many are downright scary. There are clips of Fischer ranting to these children about how they are hypocrites and liars if they don't live their lives like the church says, and even how Harry Potter would have been put to death in the Bible. This kind of oratory scares me now, even on screen. I can't imagine how it would have affected me in person if I were 10 or 11. Perhaps most frightening of all where the scenes with a sea of children speaking in tongues, and following chants led by Fischer screaming, "This is war."

The movie could have left it alone with this case study, and it could be passed off as an isolated scenario. It goes on, however, to show meetings where these children are taught to praise president Bush because he "brings credibility to Christianity." Towards the end of the movie, preacher Ted Haggard says that the church has the power to decide any election. This may certainly have some validity to it. In the closing scenes a group from Fischer's camp, including Levi and Tori, go to Washington DC and start a Pro-Life rally. There's nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem arises when it's these children marching who probably don't fully understand the issues. I was surprised in one scene when Levi said that he was born again at age 5. He claimed that he had felt there was more out there for him, and he found that in Christianity. In my own personal editorializing of this, that's a wee bit early to making these conclusive decisions.

The strongest aspect of this movie for me, is that despite its obvious agenda, it never comes out and states it. There is only one person interviewed in the film that disagrees with Evangelicals. This is Mike Papantonio, a radio commentator, and a religious man himself. Other than him, all that is shown is footage and interviews with the subjects of the camp. This is a powerful method, and incredibly hard to pull off. Essentially, these people simply showing what it is they do, is supposed to seem so outrageous as to alienate the audience without any commentary even needed. Ewing and Grady pull this off.

Despite how powerful this movie was, there was quite a bit of repetition. Shot after shot of the children praying, and crying grew a little tiresome. It's clear these were including to beef up the length, as it has a scant hour and twenty five minute running time. Also, much like this review, it jumped around quite a bit. It seemed to be mostly in chronological order, but there were many other scenes scattered throughout with no clear time frame. This is most likely due to the lack of a narrator to tie everything together.

On a whole I found this movie very powerful. In the theater there was alternating laughter and audible gasps of shock. I saw this in a rather liberal town, so that reaction did not catch me by surprise. Basically it boils down to your feelings on this issue. Like any movie of this type "Fahrenheit 9/11", "Outfoxed", etc, if you agree, you like it, if you disagree, you don't. I agreed, and I liked it.


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