Jesus Camp review coming soon, my reaction to the trailer

Jesus Camp review coming soon, my reaction to the trailer

This week, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s indie documentary, Jesus Camp, is set to release, and already the blogosphere is all abuzz about it. I can’t wait. I will be catching a pre-release screening of the film through the auspices of Christianity Today International, my employer, and will write my reactions to it as soon as possible. Of course, I’ll share it with you.

Upon seeing the trailer, linked below, I was shocked and fascinated. Repelled and embarrassed. And angry. You see, I went to these camps as a kid. I witnessed this kind of exuberant excess, only I saw it with the eyes of an insider, both as a teenager and later as a camp counselor. I have seen the pseudo exorcisms (I sincerely doubt any of the exhibitions I saw at the altar were genuine possession) and I’ve seen my peers faint and wooden on the floor, both praising, weeping, and sometimes faking it.

And, looking back, it is a little creepy. But it was also formative.

So, I don’t know if this outsider’s view of an intimate setting will truly repulse me or enlighten me. Maybe both.

But I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.

View: Jesus Camp (QuickTime)
Jesus Camp (Windows Media)

From the Press:

  • Beyond the Ideological and the Political in “Jesus Camp,” A Chat With Children’s Pastor Becky Fischer (indieWIRE)

    “Scenes of children proselytizing and learning about creationism in addition to a host of conservative principles engendered some unease amongst the generally liberal New York audiences during the Tribeca Film Festival, many of whom had questions for directors Grady and Ewing about Fischer who was unable to attend the festival. A screening in Manhattan’s East Village late last week, with even documentary filmmaker Michael Moore in attendance, reportedly became quite a raucous event as audience members reacted loudly to the film and Fischer, in particular.

    “I’ve only seen [the film] one time, and I was still processing what was left out and left in. [But from] what I’ve seen, I think [Grady and Ewing] did a great job,” said Fischer. “I think they captured the beautiful concepts of what we represent.””

  • Magnolia Eyeing Both Sides of the Aisle with “Jesus Camp” Doc (indieWIRE)

    “”When so many supposedly journalistic documentaries can’t resist the urge to editorialize, it’s refreshing to see a pair of filmmakers tackle this hot button subject with such a respect for their subject matter and the people involved,” said Magnolia Pictures president Eamonn Bowles, in a statement today. “‘Jesus Camp’ is sure to be intensely fascinating and thought-provoking to people on all sides of this issue.”

    Magnolia intends to specifically court both Evangelical Pentecostals and the more traditionally liberal audiences that tend to embrace documentaries.”

  • Jesus Camp ( — Reviews)

    “Jesus Camp,” from documakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (“Boys of Baraka”), may shock many viewers, especially political liberals, when it shows children speaking in tongues, their faces glowing with ecstasy and tears running down their cheeks. Liberals might also be alarmed by images of 7-year-olds in camouflage face-paint performing spiritual war dances at summer camp and little hands reaching out to bless a cardboard cut-out of President George W. Bush in the hope of cinching a pro-life Supreme Court appointment. A&E Indie Films production could rouse brisk theatrical interest before hitting TV.”

  • Jesus Camp (Washington City Paper)

    “If you’re one of those hardy optimists who think the blue and red halves of the United States will someday deserve that name again, Jesus Camp is just the movie to kick all the hope out of you. Behold, East Coast liberals, and despair: Young children speaking in tongues. Home-school matriarchs arguing that intelligent design and global warming are, respectively, proven and unproven theories. And, most worrisome, a driven, self-assured children’s educator who announces that “democracy is designed to destroy itself” and that it’s only a matter of time before “Jesus reigns on Earth.”

  • Jesus Camp (Independent News)

    “Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of evangelicals, says in the movie children are fueling a boom in his churches that would continue to have a profound effect on U.S. politics.

    “There’s a new church like this every two days,” he says. “It’s got enough growth to essentially sway every election. If the evangelicals vote, they determine the election.”

    Pensacola trial attorney Mike Papantonio, a Methodist and Air America Radio “Ring of Fire” radio talk show host, takes on the evangelicals at several points in the documentary.

    Filmed in his Pensacola radio studio, he says the religious right is destroying youth and American democracy.

    “They’re training Christian soldiers for the Republican Party,” Papantonio says in “Jesus Camp.” “How does that fit with God’s message? God has a special place for those who mess with kids and it’s not a pretty place.””

  • Mr. Feinberg Goes to Jesus Camp: The Passion of the Evangelicals … (Loki Films)

    “From a cinematic perspective, one could hardly ask for a more interesting protagonist than Fischer. As Ewing puts it, “Any person who’s on an intense mission, anyone who’s so single-focused on any kind of mission, is of interest to us, and I think makes a very good documentary film character … Becky is such an amazing, charismatic figure, and the kids are just so intense. We thought — this is a good story, it’s a good way to look at the Evangelical movement, through the eyes of children. And we thought that was original. We didn’t want to make a talking-heads movie, we didn’t want to make something very didactic. So we thought this was an interesting way to get into that world.”

    During the filming, several of Fischer’s campers emerged as characters the directors would focus on. Among them, 12 year old Levi claimed to have been born-again at the age of 5 and was an aspiring preacher, and Rachel, at 9 years old, was a fearless recruiter. Ewing says, “They jumped out at us. They’re so devoted, they’re so intense, and we’d never met kids like them. They’re so young, but so sure of themselves, and they had all the answers, you know? I’d never met kids like that. There was no doubt in what they were doing with their lives and what was right and what was wrong in their world, and that was extremely provocative.” Another reason, she adds jokingly, is that “Levi’s got a fantastic mullet.””

  • Film “Jesus Camp” focuses on US evangelical youth (Loki Films)

    “”The reason you go for kids is because whatever they learn by the time they’re 7 or 8 or 9 years old is pretty well there for the rest of their lives,” Fischer says on a radio show in which she is challenged by Papantonio, a practicing Methodist who is also a director of liberal Air America radio.

    “As I understood, your question to me was ‘Do you feel it’s right for the fundamentalists to indoctrinate their children with their own beliefs?’ I guess fundamentally, yes I do, because every other religion is indoctrinating their kids. I would like to see more churches indoctrinating,” she says.

    Papantonio responds: “You can tell a child anything … you can make a child into a soldier that carries an AK47.”

    Fischer says: “You could call it brainwashing, but I am radical and passionate in teaching children about their responsibility as Christians, as God-fearing people, as Americans.” Ewing said there were some 80 million to 100 million evangelical Christians in the United States. “Most of those in our movie are Pentecostal and I believe there are about 30 million,” she said. “They are by no means marginalized.””

  • Jesus Camp Review on The Hot Button (Loki Films)

    “Still, it is the kind of film that I will throw into the DVD player and play for friends anytime someone comes over and wants to watch some TV. It is bittersweet and familiar and really, quite brilliant to experience. When the tears well up in Tory’s eyes and she in so overcome with “the spirit” that she seems like she is going to literally explode with emotion, and you are thinking, “This is a child,” you can’t help but to make a choice for yourself. You can’t help but to ponder the complexity of faith and what we do to and for our children. Some will be happy to have an ally in the viewing in Mike Papantonio. But this liberal thinks that if you can’t take a screening of Jesus Camp without a verbal nightlite to comfort you, you are already too weak not to succumb to what Becky Fischer believes that you will either believe or burn in hell for not believing. Muscle up — and I mean real emotional and intellectual muscle, not endless Randy Rhoades rhetoric — my left-leaning friends. The fight for freedom is just as hard now as it was hundreds of years ago. It’s not for sissies (though it is for gay people).”

[tags]Becky-Fischer, BlogRodent, Boys-of-Baraka, Brainwashed-in-the-Blood, brainwashing, camp, Charismatic, Christianity-Today-International, CT-Movies, Eamonn-Bowles, Ewing, film, Fischer, Grady, Heidi-Ewing, indie-documentary, indieWIRE, Jesus-Camp, Jesus-Camp-trailer, Levi, liberal, Magnolia, Magnolia-Pictures, Michael-Moore, Mike-Papantonio, MinistryToday, movie, MSNBC, National-Association-of-evangelicals, Papantonio, Pentecostal, propaganda, Rachel, Rachel-Grady, reviews, Ted-Haggard, Tribeca-Film-Festival, WORD-FM, Word-of-Faith[/tags]

15 thoughts on “Jesus Camp review coming soon, my reaction to the trailer

  1. Oengus Moonbones

    Rich, I’m sure your review will be interesting.

    But my gut feeling is this: the movie was made primarily to reiterate, once again, the old threadbare Xtians=Evil formula. These things come in waves. But it has been quiet for some time now, so I think we’re due for another wave, especially now that we have a graduating class who have learned their craft from tendentious docu-agitprop-makers such as Michael Moore

    My guess is that one point of novelty in the movie will be the subtly added suggestion that Xtian youth campouts are somehow morally equivalent to the madrassahs where kids are trained to aspire to become shaheeds wearing suicide belts.

  2. Rich Post author

    The secular blog community is certainly coming to that conclusion, Oengus. Some even saying that quotes like, “Who’s ready to give their lives for Jesus” is identical to the Fascist-Muslim call for martyrs.

    They don’t get it. Ironically, while they criticize “fundamentalist” Christians for being too literal, they themselves are far too literal when hearing typical Evangelical calls for spiritual transformation.

    Interestingly, when Magnolia acquired the film, they asked Michael Moore to pull it from his indie film festival. He refused, probably because he felt the film fell squarely in his liberal worldview and he wanted others to see it. On the other hand, Becky, the woman who runs the kids camp in the video, is satisfied that the video fairly represents her camps mission and worldview, and is planning to hold screenings at churches herself. To promote the camp.

    It may be not be the litmus test liberals hope it is. It might be more of a Rorschack test. I’ll find out.



  3. Rich Post author

    Hi, guys. Here’s news: I’ve watched the film, copied down numerious notes on the dialog and content of the film, and hurriedly dashed off a 6,500 word article which I had to just as hurriedly cut 4,600 words from to get it accepted for use by my employer.

    :: sob ::

    So, my 1,900 word article on Jesus Camp will be appearing Wednesday on the Christianity Today Movies website. When that happens, I’ll link to the shorter article, and post the longer one for the masochists among you who want to read all my glorious research!



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  5. Rich Post author

    Watch this space for updates!

    I’ve written a 1,900-word article for Christianity Today that will be posted in its Movies Channel on Wednesday afternoon. One day later, I will post my full-length 6,500-word commentary on the film here at BlogRodent. You may, of course, enjoy either, or both (if you’re particularly masochistic).

    I’ll update this article with the links here and in the comments section so you can either subscribe to the article’s comments feed or to my site feed, and you’ll get the latest skinny immediately.

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  10. jackson

    I strongly recommend anyone who had a problem with this film or is questioning the purpose of the directors to read this article/interview. I hope this will expell anyone’s urge to dismiss this documentary. It also dismisses most of the “rant” above. Everyone has an opinion, but your “review” did exactly what you claim this documentary did. The movie never claimed everyone who is evangelical is just like this. It’s just a small group of people, but the fact is, they exist, it happened, they are doing what they are doing, so stop feeling so threatened. Why is it that fundamentalists are always feeling so “threatened” by what other people say or do. Is that how you show your strength and faith in action?

    Jesus Camp-Hollywood Jesus Interview

  11. Rich Post author

    Interesting, Jackson, that you berate “fundamentalists” for being defensive when the very article you cite shows the directors of the film acting defensive over the exact same issues.

    “Throughout much of the interview, the filmmakers spent time defending the people in the film — not because they believe in what they are doing, but because they have come to understand what most people see only as bizarre.”

    For the record, I’m not threatened by the film, the film makers, or your comments. You clearly haven’t read my review. Read it, then comment, please. I have no patience for straw man arguments.



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