Jesus Camp, a documentary that was released in September of last year, follows a number of Evangelical Christian children as they attend the Kids on Fire summer camp in North Dakota. The film highlights the political, social and religious goals of the fundamentalist adults who make the camp possible, and their efforts to instill their beliefs on their young, impressionable children.
The main message that I took away from this film is that a lot of these people are bat shit crazy. I knew that before viewing the movie, as do most people outside of this fundamentalist Christian sect. For proof, you need to look no further than the children's minister who runs the camp, Becky Fischer. She makes her position clear; she is hoping to recruit a new generation of children ready to lay down their lives for their religion if the opportunity presents itself. The children themselves are raised with a mentality that they are at war against non-believers, a notion that the children communicate to the viewer in various interviews. When the adults profiled in Jesus Camp are not recruiting for their army of Christ, they are assuring their children that science "really doesn't prove anything," placing red tape over their mouths in anti-abortion demonstrations and calling for political unification to over-turn laws that do not coincide with their beliefs.
Like I said, they're out of their minds.
What I found disappointing was the narrow scope of the individuals the filmmakers chose to profile. There was a clear bias, made more recognizable by the interjections from the only sane person on camera during the entire film, Mike Papantonio, host of the left-of-center "Ring of Fire" radio show. It is not difficult to find the crackpots who feel that a successful religious experience involves producing immobilizing fits of hysterical crying in their young children and offering praise to a cardboard cut out of George Bush. If the directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, really wanted to make a film that gave a more balanced view of the religion, it would not have been difficult to find at least one family or church that would have presented the audience with an alternative take on Evangelical Christians and offer them a reasonable amount of screen time. Instead, what we are left with is a one sided presentation of the facts that we already know - Becky Fischer and her crazy Christian companions are out of control. The filmmakers did not challenge themselves, and therefore did not challenge their audience. Jesus Camp, in my opinion, had the potential to be much more powerful and important than it is in its current state because as it stands now, the film leaves itself open to much deserved criticism from the fundamentalist Christians who claim they were mis-represented or simply not represented at all. Once again, an important topic that deserves to be documented and discussed falls victim to poor directorial choices that largely invalidate it as a means of political and social conversation. It's only logical, then, that Jesus Camp was first screened at Michael Moore's film festival.
As the documentary stands now, it is a startling look into the most fundamental of the fundamentalists. Any liberal watching this film should be scared of these children, says Becky Fischer. They are passionate and dedicated and most importantly, they are still in elementary school. This documentary is shocking and heartbreaking and deserves to be seen, but could have been a much more solid starting point for the conversation regarding the melding of church and state that threatens our country.