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Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Writing Credits:
Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

America is being born again.

Jesus Camp, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, directors of the critically acclaimed 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.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$17.659 thousand on 13 screens.
Domestic Gross
$878.623 thousand.

Rated PG-13

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 84 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 1/23/2007

• Audio Commentary with Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
• 15 Deleted Scenes


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Jesus Camp (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 17, 2007)

Back when we were 14, my friend Kevin tagged along to Bible camp with some cousins. Never particularly interested in religion prior to this experience, Kevin emerged as a Born Again, raging Christian believer. To say this least, this came as a shock, and it created some tensions given Kevin’s rather aggressive pro-Christian, anti-everything else venom at the time.

Kevin’s “conversion” didn’t take and he soon went back to being the same bonehead he is today; despite this bump in the road, we’ve remained friends essentially our whole lives. Still, I obviously have strong memories of this experience, so when I heard about a documentary called Jesus Camp, I was curious to get a look at how some of these religious organizations work.

Camp introduces us to a few main personalities we’ll follow. We meet Pentecostal children’s minister Becky Fischer and learn that she runs summer camp for Evangelical kids. We also get to know a few kids who will attend that camp. These include 12-year-old aspiring preacher Levi and 10-year-old dancer Tory. We also find nine-year-old Rachael and learn that she hopes to someday open a Christian nail salon.

The movie sets its personalities against a backdrop of Sandra Day O’Connor’s resignation from the Supreme Court. The film uses that to remind us of the political stakes related to the Christian Right, and further notes along those lines come from intermittent shots of radio talk show host Mike Papantonio. His program discusses religious issues and he presents concerns that his fellow Christians are subverting the Bible to suit their own needs.

Most of the movie looks at Becky and the kids, though. We follow them to her camp and see what happens to them there. Mostly this means we learn more about their religious beliefs and how these affect their lives.

It’s one thing to inculcate a sense of spirit and ethics in kid, but it’s another to totally brainwash and indoctrinate them. That’s what we see in Jesus Camp, as all the adults involved act to indoctrinate kids into their holy army.

Just imagine how American audiences would react if Camp depicted identical events but featured Osama and Islam as the subjects. The material on display here truly boggles the mind. I don’t seek to argue theology or religion, but I don’t think you have to be a non-believer to come away from Camp with a feeling of discomfort. Only those fully on the side of Becky and her zealots could view this and not feel disturbed.

Did the filmmakers intend for us to come down with this sense of disgust toward Becky and her ilk? I don’t know, as the movie never really tips its hand in that direction. Camp can’t be called an objective documentary, as no such thing exists, especially not when confronted by material as charged as this.

Nonetheless, the filmmakers don’t take the Michael Moore approach that leaves no question where they stand ideologically. Really, they don’t need to taint the footage with their opinions because the clips stand on their own. This isn’t the kind of stuff that allows us to find room for interpretation; either you’re fully with these people or you’re against them.

Frankly, most will be in the latter category, as it seems hard to find redemption in such over the top zealots. Becky scares the crap out of me. Superficially, she has issues. I think it’s ironic to see the morbidly obese Becky rant about how lazy Americans lack the discipline to fast ala Muslims; clearly she hasn’t skipped meals any time recently – or ever. Also, isn’t her focus on her appearance – she spends a lot of time with her bizarre spiky hairstyle – a sin? Seems that way to me.

Beyond these superficial issues, though, Becky scares as only a possessed “true believer” can. Fischer clearly seems to think we need to brainwash and train kids to be warriors for Christ. She makes comments such as “We have the truth” and “We’ve got to stand up and take back the land”. She also chants “this means war!” repeatedly while kids in camouflage dance. She even views radical Islam terrorists as role models for how we should indoctrinate our kids!

This is the stuff of nightmares. Separation of church and state? No such thing in the World of Becky. It’s all Christian zealotry, all the time in her universe.

This becomes especially troublesome as we see its effect on the kids. Of course, Becky’s not alone, as the various parents feature similar viewpoints. Levi’s mom even states that “if you look at creationism, you realize it’s the only possible answer to all the questions”. Plenty of other creepy, meddlesome adults crop up along the way.

We see their effect as we hear from the kids. They buy into what the adults tell them because they’re kids. They’re the best kind of zealots because they lack the life experience to possibly see things differently. Of course, that’s why adults shouldn’t force beliefs on them so strongly, but Becky and her ilk view it differently; what better time to indoctrinate kids than when they don’t know any better?

This makes the material in the film especially sad to see. Really, what Becky and the others do borders on child abuse. They don’t transmit the positive side of Christianity. Instead, they communicate how “sick” the world is and how they need to fix it by forcing others to follow their beliefs. In this world, there aren’t any beliefs; there’s only “the truth” as interpreted by Becky and her pals. If this means they communicate a dark, warped view of the world and brainwash kids to do their bidding, so be it.

You know, I didn’t think that much of Jesus Camp as I watched it. Sure, I was disturbed by what I saw, but it didn’t seem that impressive at first. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized what an impression it made. This is disturbing footage that needs to be seen.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Jesus Camp appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Due to its videotaped origins, Camp offered an erratic presentation, but it generally seemed satisfying.

Since most of the movie focused on close-ups, the majority of the came across as fairly well-defined. However, shots that broadened out from there seemed less solid. Some of the wider images presented moderately weak delineation and clarity. I noticed examples of light jaggies, shimmering and edge enhancement. Other than some video artifacting in low-light shots, the image seemed free from source defects.

Colors generally looked fine. The hues never became terrifically vivid or dynamic, but they only rarely came across as a bit bland or muddy. For the most part, the tones appeared clear and accurate. Black levels were a little thin but usually seemed acceptably deep. Low-light images were a bit iffier, as they usually looked somewhat dense. All of this came with the territory, though; as a low-budget video project, Camp presented an acceptable image.

As for the Dolby Surround 2.0 audio of Jesus Camp, it presented a modest affair. Except for music, the mix appeared largely monaural. The effects came from natural events, and that kept those elements mainly isolated in the center, with only a few exceptions such as dance scenes or foul weather; those expanded mildly but nicely to the other channels. The dialogue also remained in the middle. The score broadened acceptably to the sides and rears and demonstrated decent stereo imaging, but the scope of this track stayed very low-key.

Audio quality was good but not anything special. A dialogue-heavy piece, speech varied somewhat due to shooting conditions. The dialogue remained acceptably natural and intelligible. Effects played a minor role and never presented much of a presence, but they were acceptably clean and distinct. Music sounded best. The restrained score was smooth and rich within its constraints. Simply because there wasn’t much to the soundtrack of Camp, I couldn’t give it more than a “C+”, but the audio seemed just fine for this sort of film.

As we move to the DVD’s extras, we find an audio commentary from directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific track. They offer notes about the main personalities in the film, technical information related to the shoot, editorial and thematic choices, and a few other related issues.

To say the least, this commentary came as a disappointment. I didn’t expect the directors to provide their opinions on the situations and personalities, but I hoped to get more insight into the flick and its challenges. Why’d they want to make this movie? What concerns cropped up along the way? We learn little to nothing about these issues, and the track stays pretty banal and superficial. Some remarks about the now-disgraced Pastor Ted Haggard provide a little spark, but overall this is a fairly dull and unrevealing commentary.

15 Deleted Scenes run between 51 seconds and four minutes, four seconds for a total of 31 minutes, 20 seconds of footage. Most of these offer more footage with Levi and Rachael, as we see more of their lives and have them tell us more about their fervent beliefs. These actually serve to make the kids seem creepier, as they focus the kids’ obsessiveness in a tighter package than what we see in the final flick.

The deleted scenes also open up a cut segment of Tory’s story as we learn about her dad’s service in Iraq. He volunteers for the military and views his time in the Mid East as an “all expenses paid missionary trip.” Ooookay. Among other strange pieces, Becky and the other adults create a “game plan” in case any demonic manifestations occur. We also get more disturbing insights into the way the adults plan to use the kids. Plenty of interesting material shows up in this collection of clips.

Jesus Camp gives us a solid look at the nature of the Christian Right. We see a fairly extreme edge of that movement, but it nonetheless shows the methods used to brainwash kids into following a narrow set of beliefs. The DVD provides decent picture and audio along with many deleted scenes and a disappointing audio commentary. This is a powerful and disturbing flick.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8181 Stars Number of Votes: 11
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