The Gospel According to…


It’s War of the Words in ‘Jesus Camp’.

I’m pretty sure this film had it’s US release eons ago; it was nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Documentary section but I only caught it just recently. Who could not be intrigued by a poster of an innocent little girl looking to the skies with tears rolling down her cheek and her hands clasped in prayer?

She is one of many children who attend ‘Jesus Camp’, a week long bible beating experience for Evangelical kids in America’s South. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady reveal how deep rooted Evangelism has become in the U.S., as it intertwines with politics, and affects even the non-members. It is easy to shock people with such a subject matter. Not only are there the rumours that George Bush is wrapped up in this religion, but there is enough footage of wailing pre-teens here to unnerve any viewer. Hence, Ewing and Grady profit hugely from such drama and do not need to exaggerate any aspects of their report in order to capture an audience. All too often ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentaries can feel staged, leaving us disatsified and unsure what to believe. ‘Jesus Camp’ has some moments like this also when the camera eye is foused on a group of boys telling ghost stories in their room or disccussing Harry Potter at the dinner table (both activities highly reprimanded by their religion). With most of the children being the obedient type, one wonders how they would allow themselves misbehave in what is to be the public gaze. Children are trained to be Christian soldiers at 'Jesus Camp'.Yet, besides these minor moments of uncertainty, ‘Jesus Camp’ is an honest documentary. The camp leader, a large booming woman called Becky Fischer, is only too happy to let us know her opinions. As are the other preachers and the more confident children. Give them two minutes near a camera and they’ll be converting you…

Perhaps one could accuse the Jesus Camp directors of being biased: they are obviously against this promotion of evangelism among young people. Footage from the camp is intercepted with footage of a radio talk show host (Mike Papantonio I believe) condemning the teachings of Evangelism. At one stage he even comes up against Fischer herself when she chats to him via telephone. But, to be fair, Papantonio says nothing that any non-Evangelical would not wish to say. In fact; the directors, rather than being obviously against the subject matter, uncover the flaws within it. These are highlighted by Papantino but also by the slightly wayward children, the ones who tell ghost stories and enjoy dancing to ‘Christian’ metal music (no matter how much they claim it’s for God and not for the ‘flesh’.). Ewing and Grady prove to us that cracks can appear in the foundation that Fischer and others are attempting to build.

‘Jesus camp’ is a highly recommended documentary. Fast-paced and allowing everyone to have their say while the camera quietly records this battle between preachers and non-Evangelical radio listeners, a religious debate that in the end, is nought but a war of words.

Reviewed by Gemma.

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