A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.A documentary on kids who attend a summer camp hoping to become the next Billy Graham.
"Jesus Camp" revolves around a pentecostal minister who hosts a summer camp for children in North Dakota, and the sectarian Christian conservative families who send their children to this camp. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady wisely chose to avoid the polemical tone of most politically-motivated films, and instead opt to present a mostly unfiltered glimpse of this odd subculture. But through carefully selected images and the use of talk radio commentary as a framing device, they construct a subtle, yet damning narrative about a religious movement that isolates its children from mainstream culture, indoctrinates them into right-wing causes, and uses them as political props.
At Jesus Camp, the daily activities include standard camp fare such as spelunking and go-karts, but they also include speaking in tongues and smashing coffee mugs emblazoned with the word "government". Children learn that "science doesn't prove anything," and learn to consider themselves part of an Army of God. They are compelled to pledge that they will fight to end abortion. They are even pushed into publicly confessing their impure thoughts, and many of them cry and wail charismatically.
The camp director explains that she admires the way Islamic cultures raise children so devoted they will risk their lives for their faith. When we ultimately see several of the campers being placed by their parents on the steps of the Capitol with tape over their mouths, protesting abortion, the real purpose of this camp is driven home.
But the most touching scenes are the ones where the children are alone, and we see the ways that this indoctrination creeps into the most innocent elements of childhood. 11 year old Tori loves dancing to Christian rock, but frets that it's not always easy to dance for God instead of "dancing for the flesh." On an outing to the bowling alley, 9 year old Rachael feels compelled to walk up to strangers and awkwardly evangelize to them, without being prompted. A roomful of boys telling ghost stories after dark are interrupted by an adult who warns them about stories that don't glorify God.
No doubt some viewers will accuse the filmmakers of the dreaded liberal bias. But this is not a work of fiction, nor is it slanted reporting. These are real people and real events, captured on film. If the evangelical movement comes off badly in this film, the people on screen have no one but themselves to blame.
- Jun 16, 2006