Jesus Camp

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Jesus Camp
Directed by Heidi Ewing
Rachel Grady
Produced by Heidi Ewing
Rachel Grady
Starring Becky Fischer
Mike Papantonio
Music by Force Theory
Cinematography Mira Chang
Jenna Rosher
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
Release date(s) September 15, 2006
Country United States
Language English
Gross revenue $1,013,596

Jesus Camp is a 2006 American documentary directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about a Pentecostal/charismatic summer camp for children who spend their summers learning and practicing their "prophetic gifts" and being taught that they can "take back America for Christ."[1] According to the distributor, it "doesn't come with any prepackaged point of view" and tries to be "an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community”. [2]

On January 23, 2007, "Jesus Camp" was nominated for the 2006 79th Annual Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Documentary Feature.[3] It lost out to Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.


[edit] Overview

Jesus Camp debuted at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, and was sold by A&E Indie Films to Magnolia Pictures. Controversy surrounding the film was featured in several television news programs and print media articles in 2006 (see links below).

Jesus Camp is a documentary about the "Kids On Fire School of Ministry," a charismatic Christian summer camp located just outside Devils Lake, North Dakota and run by Becky Fischer and her ministry, Kids in Ministry International. The camp was started in 2001. The film focuses on three children who attended the camp in the summer of 2005—Levi, Rachael, and Tory (Victoria). The film cuts between footage of the camp and a children's prayer conference held just prior to the camp at Christ Triumphant Church, a large charismatic church in Lee's Summit, Missouri, a suburb of Kansas City.

All three children are very devout Christians. Levi, who has ambitions of being a pastor, has already preached several sermons at his father's church, Rock of Ages Church in St. Robert, Missouri. He is homeschooled (as are many of the campers), and learns physical science from a book that reconciles young-earth creationism with "scientific" principles. He is also taught that global warming is a hoax and that the Earth's temperature has a history of natural fluctuation not caused by humankind (e.g., the Ice Age was not due to any industry or pollution by mankind). Levi preaches a sermon at the camp in which he declares that his generation is key to Jesus's return. Rachael, who also attends Levi's church (her father is assistant pastor), is seen praying over a bowling ball during a game early in the film, and frequently passes Christian tracts (including some by Jack Chick) to people she meets. She does not think highly of non-charismatic churches (or "dead churches," as she calls them), feeling they aren't "churches that God likes to go to." Tory is a member of the children's praise dance team at Christ Triumphant Church. She frequently dances to Christian heavy metal music, and feels uncomfortable about "dancing for the flesh". She also does not think highly of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

At the camp, Fischer stresses the need for children to purify themselves in order to be part of the "army of God". She strongly believes that children need to be in the forefront of turning America toward conservative Christian values. She also feels that Christians need to focus on training kids since "the enemy" are focused on training theirs.

In one scene shot at Christ Triumphant Church, Lou Engle, a leader of the group Harvest International Ministries (the religious organization with which both the church and Fischer's ministry are affiliated—an affiliation not advertised in the film) and founder of the Justice House of Prayer, preaches a message urging children to join the fight to end abortion in America. He prays for George W. Bush to have the strength to appoint "righteous judges" who will overturn Roe v. Wade. By the end of the sermon, the children are chanting, "Righteous judges! Righteous judges!" In another, a woman brings a life-sized cutout of Bush to the front of the church, and has the children stretch their hands toward him in prayer.

There is also a scene at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Levi and his family go on vacation to hear its now-disgraced pastor, Ted Haggard. Afterward, Levi, Rachael, Tory, their families and several other children take part in a Justice House of Prayer rally held by Engle in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additionally, there is a debate between Fischer and Mike Papantonio (an attorney and a radio talk-show host for Air America Radio's Ring of Fire).

The DVD, released in January 2007, includes several deleted scenes. In one of them, Levi's father and mother suggest that the next president may well have been at Kids on Fire. In another, Tory's mother takes several of the kids to a pro-life women's clinic located next door to a Planned Parenthood clinic. In an interview, the clinic's director says that she was very pleased to see children so passionate about ending abortion.

The DVD also includes commentary by Grady and Ewing. They reveal that when they arrived in Kansas City, there was a great deal of excitement over the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. However, according to Grady and Ewing, Fischer and the others did not see their activism for socially conservative causes as political, but as a matter of faith. They also reveal that Fischer and the others did not understand why some of the scenes of them speaking in tongues and praying over objects got in the film.

[edit] Controversy

Jesus Camp was screened at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival against the wishes of the distribution company, Magnolia Pictures.[4] Magnolia had pulled Jesus Camp from the festival earlier in the summer after it purchased rights to the film, in a decision apparently inspired by Moore's association with the film festival, with Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles saying "I don't want the perception out in the public that this is an agenda-laden film."[5]

According to Ron Reno of Focus on the Family,

"The directors' claims that they were simply trying to create an 'objective' film about children and faith ring hollow. I don't question the motives of the Christians shown in the film. Indeed, the earnestness and zeal with which the young people pictured attempt to live out their faith are admirable. Unfortunately, however, it appears that they were unknowingly being manipulated by the directors in their effort to cast evangelical Christianity in an unflattering light."[6]

In November 2006, Fischer announced that she would be shutting down the camp indefinitely due to negative reaction towards her in the film. According to Fischer's website, the owners of the property used for the camp shown in the film were concerned about vandalism to the premises following the film's release and thus will not allow it to be used for any future camps. Fischer has said that the camp will be indefinitely postponed until other suitable premises can be found, but it will be back.[7]

[edit] Reviews and awards

Jesus Camp received a 87 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, counting 83 positive reviews vs 12 negative reviews. It received a 7.6/10 on the Internet Movie Database, reviewed by over 6,000 viewers.

Michael Smith of the Tulsa World gave it three stars (out of four), describing it as "…impressive in its even-handed presentation…", "…straightforward…" and "…a revealing, unabashed look at the formation of tomorrow's army of God."[8]

The Chicago Tribune reviewer Jessica Reaves gives the film three stars (out of four) and writes that Jesus Camp is "…an enlightening and frank look at what the force known as Evangelical America believes, preaches and teaches their children…" and concludes that what the filmmakers "…have accomplished here is remarkable—capturing the visceral humanity, desire and unflagging political will of a religious movement."[9]

David Edelstein of CBS Sunday Morning, New York, and NPR finds Jesus Camp, "a frightening, infuriating, yet profoundly compassionate documentary about the indoctrination of children by the Evangelical right."[10]

Some reviewers responded negatively to the film; Rob Nelson of the Village Voice called the movie "[an] absurdly hypocritical critique of the far right's role in the escalating culture war",[11] and J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader criticized the film for "failing to distinguish the more fundamentalist Pentecostals" and for inserting "unnecessary editorializing" by using clips from Mike Papantonio's radio show.[12]

Jesus Camp was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature section of the 2007 Academy Awards.[3]

[edit] References

  1. ^ Watts, Tom. Real Detroit Weekly Ewing believes in Jesus Camp, 10/4/06. Retrieved on 12/11/06.
  2. ^ Christian NewsWire, Jesus Camp Distributors Adverse to Screening at Traverse: Michael Moore Ignores Request to Remove Documentary from Festival, 8/8/06. Retrieved on 12/11/06.
  3. ^ a b 79th Academy Awards nominations list. Retrieved on 2007-1-29
  4. ^ Kilday, Gregg. Moore fest defies distrib over "Jesus". The Hollywood Reporter, 2006-8-4. Retrieved on 2006-12-11.
  5. ^ indieWIRE: When A Fest Strategy Goes Awry: Traverse City Screens "Jesus Camp" Against Magnolia's Wishes
  6. ^ Jesus Camp
  7. ^ :: Kids In Ministry International ::. - Home
  8. ^
  9. ^ Movie review: 'Jesus Camp' | Metromix Chicago
  10. ^ The Science of Sleep - All the King’s Men - Jesus Camp - Old Joy - New York Magazine Movie Review
  11. ^ 'Jesus Camp' by Rob Nelson. Retrieved on 5-26-2007.
  12. ^ Retrieved on 5-26-2007.

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