Directed by: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady
Starring: Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard, Mike Papantonio
In the opening scenes of Mark Waters' Mean Girls (2004), there's a clip where we see what are described as "weirdly religious" home-schooled children with one of the kids telling us, "And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that man could protect himself against the dinosaurs -- and the homosexuals." After seeing the documentary Jesus Camp, which reports that 75 percent of home-schooled children are evangelical Christians, the Mean Girls scene actually seems rather mild -- almost reasonable. Jesus Camp is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. It's not a question of differing beliefs; it's a question of a separate society that will not accept differing beliefs -- and the film is a portrait of the attempts to indoctrinate as many young people as possible into that mindset.
Eschewing commentary, Jesus Camp is content to merely record the events and people at Becky Fischer's evangelistic Bible camp (located with presumably unconscious irony in Devil's Lake, N.D.). It really requires no commentary. We first see Ms. Fischer at a revival meeting where she rails on and on about how America has gotten "fat and lazy" and has forgotten the benefits of fasting (judging by her size, this is probably not a topic in which she's an expert). She then happily shares her vision -- "I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and in all those different places, because -- excuse me, but we have the truth."
The bulk of the film details her efforts to achieve this aim through techniques that, in any other circumstances, would be quickly labeled brainwashing. What is most alarming -- apart from seeing children who can scarcely grasp the concepts being thrust upon them being subjected to this -- is the amount of hatred buried in the messages, ranging from the bloodthirsty statement, "Had he been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would have been put to death," to the idea that churches that do not subscribe to the beliefs espoused here are "dead churches," to the overall concept of everyone who isn't one of them is the enemy. A deeply disturbing and relevant piece of filmmaking.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke