Sunday, January 10, 2010

Jesus Camp

Since there's always a first time for everything, I'm going to review before your eyes a documentary. Honestly, Jesus Camp has always given me the feeling that it could have had much more depth. Nonetheless, despite its flaws, the film can be seen as a good exploration of the American evangelical movement provided that you have a good knowledge of American history and laws.

Shot during George W. Bush's second presidential term, Jesus Camp is centred on a group of born-again children. They attend to Pastor Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire Summer Camp" where they're indoctrinated taught to become dedicated Christian "soldiers in God's army". Moreover, these children are expected to be the adults of tomorrow who will play an active role in American political life.

The first thing many might like about Jesus Camp is the fact that directors Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing don't judge evangelical Christians. By mostly letting Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard, the children and their parents speak, the documentary eloquently shows these people's perception of the American society. We can see it through their contempt for freedom of conscience (the right to be a "non-Christian"), American pop culture (ex: Hollywood, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, etc.), the right for abortion (which is protected by the Roe v. Wade ruling) and the government "who took religion out of schools". In short, expect to see a good exploration of the Evangelical Christians' political mentality.

However, the fact that Ewing and Grady stays on the sidelines can be a little liability to Jesus Camp. In fact, the subject of the separation between the state and the church in the USA (guaranteed by the first Amendment of the Bill of Rights) is not thoroughly dealt with in Jesus Camp despite a few remarks we hear from Mike Papantonio an advocate of secularism in the USA. As a result of that, we have the feeling that the two directors let the Evangelical Christians comfort themselves in: 1) their own ignorance about politics; and 2) their doltish belief that the USA is a "Christian kingdom" instead of a secular republic. This means that the best thing to do was to interview political scientists, lawyers and historians besides some Evangelical Christians and Papantonio.

Finally, I didn't find Jesus Camp as "provocative" (Indiewire) or "shocking" (Variety) as I expected it to be. Since the documentary is made with an obvious objectivity from Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, anyone will conclude that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison (just to name these Founding Fathers) would roll over themselves if they saw how invasive religions are in American political life. However, the two directors seemed too afraid to go into technical details related to law and politics.

Rating: 3.5/5

Origin:USA (2006)
Length:84 minutes
Director:Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
Starring:Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard and Mike Papantonio

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