Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Whatever your own position on it, you have to admit that the subject of young children being indoctrinated into evangelical Christianity (and yes, the woman advocating it uses the word 'indoctrinate' herself) is a divisive issue, one which provokes very strong feelings. It's a fascinating subject for a documentary, but the temptation would always be to treat it in a passionate, politicised way. Jesus Camp is a fascinating film precisely because it doesn't do this. Instead, by deftly avoiding sensationalism, it provides real insight into the lives of those who live in this 'parallel America'.

Levi, who was 'saved' at the age of five, dreams of becoming a preacher. Watching him practice before his big moment on stage is as endearing as it would be with any child preparing for a nerve-wracking public appearance. Rachael, from the same church, hopes to grow up to be a missionary, admiring those who risk martyrdom in far off lands. Tory, meanwhile, is from Kansas, angry that evolution must now be taught in schools there. She's home schooled and she hopes to build a future for herself as an anti-abortion campaigner.

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They're all lovely children, just three among the hundreds undergoing training at a special summer camp. Like other kids their age, they like rock music (albeit only the Christian kind), hanging out with their friends (trying to convert the non-believers), and stories. Harry Potter, however, is out of bounds. "We don't make heroes out of warlocks," says pastor Becky Fischer. "In Biblical times, Harry Potter would be put to death." At this point, two of the girls on the front row look as if they're about to burst into tears.

Becky Fischer makes no apologies for her technique - as far as she's concerned, she's saving these children from Hellfire. She's a good teacher and soon wins their trust and affection. But she also hopes that God will be able to 'use' them to achieve His political ends on Earth. Her mission is to win back America for Christ, and tomorrow the world. At one point, a large cardboard cut-out of President Bush is brought onstage so that the children can pray for him.

Jesus Camp tells a small-scale story with a massive subtext. In approaching their subject so delicately, its makers have managed to capture the kind of moments which previous documentary makers, like Richard Dawkins, could only dream of - such as one of the group leaders asking the children if they would be ready to become soldiers and die for their religion 'like the Muslims do'. It's hard to imagine any of those involved feeling they were misrepresented, yet to anyone who doesn't share their beliefs (including many Christians), what's going on is truly chilling. The film-makers set out to investigate a culture clash and they have successfully brought that culture clash to our cinema screens. The result is compelling piece of work which will stay with you for a long time.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2007
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Documentary about a summer camp dedicated to making children into evangelical Christian leaders.
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Director: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Starring: Becky Fischer, Mike Papantonio, Ted Haggard

Year: 2006

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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