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flick pick | Jesus Camp 2006
Directed by: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady
Starring: Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard, Mike Papantonio
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: documentary
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: true?!?
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor (watchability): /5 

Plot synopsis Big, bold Becky Fischer is a children’s Evangelical Christian pastor. Each summer, she runs the Kids on Fire summer camp, gathering together eager little Evangelical Christians and their families in the town of Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. No macaroni arts-and-crafts at this camp: Pastor Becky’s goal is to build an army of young believers, willing and able to transform the direction of America – and the world – in the name of fundamentalist Christianity. They spend their days praying to God and to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush; they speak in tongues (Pastor Becky’s specific sect is Pentecostal) and practice militaristic, Jesus-centric song-and-dance numbers, clad in camo gear and facepaint; they discuss the evils of abortion, evolution, and Harry Potter. Among these young soldiers of God are earnest twelve-year-old mullet-sporting Levi, who knows he wants to be a preacher one day, perky 10-year-old Tory, who loves dancing to Christian rock, and intense nine-year-old Rachel, who’s already so-engrained with the evangelizing spirit that she approaches strangers in need of “saving” wherever she goes.

Review I’ll readily admit: as an agnostic bordering on atheist, I’ve always had a hard time viewing Evangelical Christians as anything other than, well, nuts. Of course, my sole experience with them is through those cable-broadcast sermons featuring wax-faced preachers shouting about God and the Devil like some mentally-deranged street-corner bum, while the hysterical audience members keen back-and-forth, tears pouring down their faces. It’s hard for me to take all the fire-and-brimstone histrionics particularly seriously; whenever I read the stats claiming that something like 10% (or even higher) of Americans surveyed identify themselves as Evangelicals, I tend to assume the numbers must be flawed. After all, I don’t know any of these people. (Ah, how small-minded we humans are.) All of which is to say, I didn’t exactly go into Jesus Camp unbiased. But to their great credit, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady more or less did, presenting the subjects of their documentary in a straightforward, fly-on-the-wall manner that lets viewers hear what everyone has to say, and make whatever judgments they like for themselves. As a result, we’re able to get a good look into a segment of American society that, by all accounts, is exercising an increasingly large amount of influence over life in the United States – without feeling like we’re being manipulated by the filmmakers. I have no doubt that Pastor Becky sees Jesus Camp in a completely different light than I do, focusing on how the film shows how successful her efforts at recruiting children have been: her group comes off as deeply committed and very organized, effective at doing exactly what they’re setting out to do. Of course, for those of us on the opposite end of the religious and political spectrum, this is precisely what makes it all so deeply, deeply scary. Getting to know these kids, one can’t help but wonder: what will they be like when they grow up? The answer to that just may provide a good hint as to where the US itself is heading. Which is why Jesus Camp makes for such riveting, thought-provoking viewing – most especially to those of us who have long dismissed these sorts of Evangelicals as a minority-cult freak show.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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