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Jesus Camp

A movie directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

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Oddly American

  • Jan 25, 2007
  • by

Oddly American

Amos Lassen and Cinema Pride

"Jesus Camp" (Magnolia) is built around a Pentecostal minister who runs a summer camp for young children and the families that send their children there. This is a "right-on" look at an American subculture and I found it particularly alarming. The moving is both a damning and sublet look about a religious movement that isolates children from the mainstream and brainwashes them with right wing ideology and then uses them politically. I found it quite similar to the way suicide bombers are taught to believe, from any early age, that to die for Allah is to die as a martyr.
A typical day at camp includes the usual camp activities such as arts and crafts and regular fun and teaching youngsters how to speak in tongues and breaking coffee mugs that have the word government on them. They are taught that science proves nothing and that are members of the "Army of God". They must pledge to fight to end abortion and are coerced to publicly confess any "impure" thoughts they have. It is just incredible and shocking to see these children cry and bawl about the greatness of God.
I just found it hard to accept that the minister openly states that she admires the Islamic culture's raising of children and how they are so devoted to their god that they will risk their lives for their faith. The one frame that will stay with me forever is when we see parents with their children whose mouths have been taped shut standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building as a protest to abortion.
There are touching scenes as well, especially those that show the children when they are alone. We see how this coercion and indoctrination exhibits itself into the most innocent activities of childhood----and that is frightening. You see children using evangelism on strangers--one especially unforgettable image takes place at a bowling alley when a nine year old girl does this to complete strangers without any type of prompting. Another such image is shown when a group of young boys telling ghost stories are interrupted and warned harshly that these stories do not glorify God.
The film concentrates on three children from evangelical Christian families in Missouri and their summer camp experiences. 12 year old Levi, 10 year old Tory and nine year old Rachel are typical cute and endearing kids that scared me with their religious fervor. Levi has the goal of becoming a pastor and to watch him preach is to be reminded of those television evangelists. Tory seems to cry a lot to show how much she loves her god and Rachel is the child I spoke of who speaks to strangers on a bowling outing from camp. These kids are the spokesmen of this christian (no capital "c") fundamentalism.
This documentary goes beyond the camp experience and gives an overall picture of evangelicalism in America. We see a mother explaining the "idiocy" of evolution to her son who she is schooling at home. There are kids praying devoutly and fervently to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush. The combination of politics and religion is one of the outstanding shockers of the film. The children are taught that homosexuality is to be condemned, that in order for schools to operate effectively, prayer must be included in the curriculum and that America is responsible for the deaths of many children--50,000,000 since 1973.
Mike Papantonio, an Air America host, has scenes in the film that are spliced into the body of the film and a conversation that he has with Becky Fischer, the camp director who is greasily charismatic is a smaller version of the larger political debate raging in America. Fischer's militancy is frightening. The message that the movie gives is not of love and tolerance, it is a message of HATRED and hate like love has no boundaries. The anti-gay venom is sickening and I often wonder how Jesus would have reacted. He did hang out with the outcasts of society and not with the religious establishment. Correct me if I am wrong but did he not deride the establishment for its hypocrisy. And what does the Bible say about leading the young astray?
Watching this film was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I thought that the adults should be indicted for abusing their children by intellectually immobilizing them in the name of God. Children tend to believe what adults tell them. This movie makes horror films look tame especially because it is really happening, Instead of living in harmony and peace and love with the diversity of mankind and teaching children to do the same, these fundamentalists are planning war with the brainwashing that they do and the children, in most cases, have no idea of what is being spoken about.
If you have any liberalism in you, you MUST see this film. If you are a conservative you will see nothing new. Once the seed of intolerance is planted, it will grow. Looking at the inner workings of conservative America and their militancy is just plain nauseating and is a remainder of how easy it is to break the human spirit and then molded into whatever the breaker chooses.
Even with all I have said, the movie is well made, non-judgmental and worth seeing and it is an important film, It must be seen so that we know what is happening in America. What is so shocking is that we are letting it happen.

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More Jesus Camp reviews
review by . August 12, 2011
Controversy in promotion of this video was largely generated by media hype in order to advertise it as a shocking exposé. If you're a sheltered suburbanite who receives all of their news via NPR, believes everything they see on TV and thrills to elections paid by the public featuring candidates purchased by special interest groups, then this is sure to disturb you. I watched this to see insane Christers doing outrageous things for my amusement, and while their conduct is embarrassing, …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A crazy crazy crazy documentary.. you have to see it to believe it. They def. believe in something.
Quick Tip by . January 28, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Freakiest part is when they haul out a standee of George Dubya and have the kids all praying at him...or is it to him? Hard to tell. =)
Quick Tip by . September 08, 2009
I'm not an evangelist, nor religious for that matter, so this movie creeps me out. Interesting to see the insider perspective though.
Quick Tip by . September 08, 2009
This is really really creepy. Especially since the Christian Right is neither.
review by . February 06, 2008
I wasn't even done with the film when I started writing this. This is more than a documentary, this is a horror movie. I first want to explain my own impressions of the subject of the film and then the documentary itself.   First, it is disturbing to me seeing this kind of, shall we say brainwashing? The adults in this film brainwashed and indoctrinated into several disturbing beliefs. First of all, they regarded George Bush as a sort of saviour, an ideal of morality. They taught creationism …
review by . March 11, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Still too shocked to say      Cons: Still too shocked to say      The Bottom Line: Because they are children, this is one of the most difficult documentaries I have ever watched.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.      I had to watch the documentary Jesus Camp in pieces. It is a 75 minute piece that took me hours to watch because of the anger and confusion it caused.   …
review by . July 03, 2007
Pros: Provides glimpses into the Evangelical movement     Cons: Marked lack of Scripture; irrelevant comments by Papantonio     The Bottom Line: This is a good film, but could use some Scripture references.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot. INTRODUCTION:      I rented this film from Blockbuster approximately one month ago and had mixed feelings about it, though not in the areas …
review by . February 01, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
`Jesus Camp' is a revealing document of the right-wing evangelical movement. Like many people of any political or religious group, the old addage, "God is on our side," is worn on most players' sleeves. In the crossfire is Becky Fischer, Pentecostal evangelical children's minister and Mike Papantonio, radio host of the "Ring of Fire" program. They are both at the heart of the left/right, red/blue, theocracy vs. oligarchy divide in our nation. At the time of the filming, Sandra Day O'Connor retired …
About the reviewer
Amos Lassen ()
Ranked #210
I am an academic who reivews movies and books of interest to the GLBT and Jewish communities.   I came to Arkansas after having been relocated here due to Hurricane Katrina. I was living in … more
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About this movie


The feverish spectacle of a summer camp for evangelical Christian kids is the focus of Jesus Camp, a fascinating if sometimes alarming documentary. (Shortly after its release, the movie gained a new notoriety when Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who appears near the end of the film, resigned his post amid a male prostitute's allegations of drug use and sexual misconduct.) For most of the film, we follow a charismatic teacher, Becky Fischer, as she trains young soldiers in "God's Army" at a camp in North Dakota. Some of the kids emerge as likable and bright, and eager to continue their work as pint-sized preachers; elsewhere, the visions of children speaking in tongues and falling to the floor in ecstasy are more troubling. Even more arresting is the vision of a generation of children home-schooled to believe that the Bible is science, or Fischer's certainty that America's flawed system of democracy will someday be replaced by a theocracy. (In one scene, a cardboard cut-out of George W. Bush is presented to the children, who react by laying their hands on the figure as though in a religious procession.) Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady maintain neutrality about all this, maybe too much so (they throw in some interviews with radio host Mike Papantonio to provide a liberal-Christian viewpoint) and one would like to know more about the grown-ups presented here. Power broker Haggard is the creepiest person in the...
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Genre: Documentary
Release Date: September 15, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: January 23, 2007
Runtime: 87 minutes
Studio: A&E IndieFilms, Loki Films
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"Oddly American"
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