If you say the American movie experience requires little more thought than keeping the popcorn in your mouth and not on the floor, watch Jesus Camp and become a born-again movie fanatic.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary on an Evangelical Christian children’s summer camp exposes the effects adult manipulations have on children’s religious beliefs, but hides the message under the guise of promoting this camp’s life.
Both layers of the movie’s staunch ideology were bound to twist a few knickers, and Jesus Camp did.
The audience in the theater clapped and shouted comments at the screen, laughing at some of the views stated like when camp leader Becky Fischer prayed over a computer monitor for God to prevent Satan from ruining the powerpoint presentation for the next day. Though their response was at the expense of the film’s subjects, the audience involvement warmed my movie-maven heart.
It hit home for me, too. Coming from a conservative area with Jehovah’s Witness parents, yet having a more liberal point of view, Jesus Camp felt like being smacked over the head with Peter’s rock all over again.
I could not help but feel disturbed by the small children crying uncontrollably in every other sermon scene or the look in one girl’s eyes when she engages in the anti-abortion political rally by placing red tape with “life” written on it over her mouth.
And yet the movie portrayed these people’s belief in what they do. It allowed the audience to see the adults’ concern for their children, and I felt the devotion leaking from the screen when one little girl described how her church bounced with their praises to the lord.
Clips from the movie even show the Evangelical Christians exercising while singing prayer, reminding me that, depending on who views it, what looks disturbing to one person is the ultimate inspiration for another.
The movie was also visually compelling. Because it was a documentary, the lighting and settings were as plain as your backyard, but the filmmaking transformed these common places into beautiful images. Sometimes the directors used the visuals to aid the subject’s comments, like when they shot one boy’s speech with the sun behind his head, giving him an angelic glow.
Other times, they used background to subvert comments such as when a speech on putting more Christians into office is played concurrently with images of snowy, barren plains.
Unlike any other movie, awkward acting enhances a documentary and Jesus Camp was no exception. The quick ramblings subjects took on when they were excited and the cut-off dialogue in conversations served to remind the audience that the actors are not characters, but are real humans beings, too.
In the end, the greatest testament to the film’s power is that most of the audience began discussing Jesus Camp as soon as the credits rolled. This is what a good movie is supposed to do: smack you in the face, ask you what you thought, and then demand that you not forget its lesson.
Whether or not you agree with Jesus Camp‘s message, it is destined to be brain fodder and is well worth the effort of seeking it out.
Jesus Camp, rated PG-13, is playing at Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley and is 84 minutes long.