Grade: A minus
Nominated for a 2007 Annual Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Jesus Camp is a documentary about a Christian summer camp for children who hone their preaching and prophecy skills.
The film avoids the more partisan approach of a Michael Moore in favor of a rather detached view of the modern charismatic Christian movement, albeit on the more extreme end of the evangelical spectrum. Interspersed throughout the film are segments featuring Mike Papantonio, who hosts "Ring of Fire," a national-syndicated weekly program on Air America Radio.
The film depicts the marriage of religion and politics in the American fundamentalist right, and is also noteworthy for a pre-scandal appearance by preacher Ted Haggard. Despite their efforts to maintain fairness, one suspects the producers had to be pinching themselves after Haggard's fall from grace last year.
The children, of course, are at the center of the film, and there are fascinating scenes in which these pre-pubescent preachers attempt to spread the Gospel to bystanders in bowling alleys and on park benches. After Rachael approaches a group of indifferent tract recipients, she walks away and whispers to the camera: "I think they were Muslims."
Jesus Camp offers a sober look at the clash of cultures in modern America, and also provides insight into the psyche of extreme fundamentalists. Rather than a predictable, condemnatory skewering of conservative evangelicals, the film attempts to understand why so many people are attracted to this blending of relgious and political ideology.
I left the film not so much shocked at what I saw, but with a better appreciation for conservative evangelicals, and - I must admit - some empathy for them. I did find the scene in which children prayed over a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush to be a bit creepy, but in the main these folks were trying their best to find meaning in the middle of a world filled with contradictions.
After all, in a time of global chaos and seeming moral decay, the certitude of the uncompromising promises offered by the likes of Pastor Becky Fischer can be quite comforting for those weary of the "sick old world" around them.