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Jesus Camp Review

Pastor Becky Fischer holds a summer camp for kids at Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. She’s training Christian soldiers for God’s Army and Jesus Camp follows three white home-schooled Missouri children–Levi (now 13) Rachael (now 10) and Tory (now 11)–through the camp from a year ago to where they are now in their indoctrination. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady present the religious brainwashing techniques in a slow deliberate manner as the evangelical Christian adults seem to transform the kids into Stepford-like children who spew the word of God for less than altruistic reasons. The children are shown being trained to bring Christ back to America and use their “Prophetic Gifts ” of which they are told they all possess. There are also scenes of children blessing a cardboard figure of President Bush saying prayers for conservative Supreme Court justice nominees and 7-year-olds in painted faces dancing spiritual war dances believing prayer can fix their malfunctioning film projector. The filmmakers try in vain to remain objective but it’s impossible. As a documentary the participants of Jesus Camp come across as realistic as they can even though they are aware of the camera at all times. Some of the scenes seem to play to the cameras in disturbing reality as the angelic faces are moved to tears by their religious fervor or turned into unworldly contortions as they speak in tongues. Levi wants to be a mega-church pastor speaking to congregations of thousands while Rachael wants to be a missionary in far-off places and is bent on recruiting her neighbor. Tory spreads her message through dance and attends anti-abortion rallies. Pastor Becky is also shown in revealing moments especially as she obsesses more about her appearance than Tammy Faye Baker would. Pastor Becky obviously allowed incredible access to the filmmakers for Jesus Camp and maybe she’ll be pleased with the way the film will get her word out. But Jesus Camp seems more suited for TV than the big screen. The ideas presented are not even remotely balanced. Well-made feature film documentaries don’t have to be unbiased but they should at least strive to address some opposite points of view. Air America radio host Mike Papantonio who is a Methodist gives the only contrary commentary about these camps but he’s rather namby-pamby about it all. Those who may expect more answers from Jesus Camp–on what would make people like Pastor Betty take these kids and coach them into becoming religiously intolerant and rigid thinkers–could be sorely disappointed.

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