Newest Review: ... and doesn't quite take so keenly and easily to the tactics being used in the camp. The queen bee of the camp (Becky Fischer) is a w... more
A Religious Child Army?
Member Name: cazkins
Advantages: Insightful, interesting and highly provocative
Disadvantages: Can be infuriating to watch
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this apart from probably outrage, but I'm always tempted by a controversial documentary. Religion is a tricky subject and not one I'll discuss here except for when it affects my opinion on the film, but I knew this would make for interesting and provocative watching, which it did.
Jesus Camp is a documentary produced by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady and its title gives a clue as to the content. I hadn't seen or heard of this before browsing Amazon, but it seems to have received some positive ratings from media sources. This focuses on a kids camp in North Dakota, strangely called the Kids On Fire, and even this creeped me out slightly. Anyway, the film takes us through what goes on at the camp, what the kids 'learn', the types of people who attend and speak there, and the general atmosphere regarding children and Christianity.
Throughout the documentary a few 'key' kids are primarily focused upon to help provide more of a familiar thread throughout. It is partly narrated by Mike Papantonio, who is doing a radio show, discussing and interviewing individuals regarding the Christian youth gang. He hosts a Christian show, yet he's obviously not as fanatical and doesn't quite take so keenly and easily to the tactics being used in the camp. The queen bee of the camp (Becky Fischer) is a woman who fundamentally thinks she is 'recruiting' these children to give up their lives to God, who must repent for their sins even at 5 years old, who must commit to serving the Lord for the rest of their lives.
The kids listen to sermons, cry when the spirits take them and shake like you see the hard-core religious types do. The activities that are involved, and the talk that is spoken in particular, is quite shocking. We're shown a birds-eye view of what goes on within the camp, of the types of religious exposure these young children receive and the reactions of others, such a Papantonio and parents of the children. Rather than hearing such tales of religious extremism and such like, we get to see it for ourselves.
What did I think? I thought it was pretty outrageous. I couldn't watch this without getting angry every few minutes, without finding myself provoked and angry and yet sad for the children. What happens in such camps could be considered to be 'brainwashing', and that's definitely what I'd say it was. Obviously that's my own opinion, and it's an opinion partly reached on the basis of what was chosen to be included in the documentary, but this is mixed with my own personal feelings, experiences and knowledge.
Whilst it did aggravate me, I found that to be a good thing. The fact this was able to provoke emotional reactions obviously meant it was doing something; it was challenging, emotive and blunt, creating a cutting edge insight in to a phenomenon with a cult status that is rarely really talked about or contested. Obviously, the writers and directors choose what goes in to the documentary and carefully cut it so we get the most shocking aspects, and yet I felt like we got quite a raw and brutal look in to the camp. The music that accompanied certain parts served to emphasise the emotion and what we're watching, but this was to make it dramatic in a way that could be packaged for a DVD. It needed to have this element of drama and direction but at the same time I didn't feel like it had been too tampered with (ie it didn't feel like it was all directed and perfectly scripted to suit the writers or to be more like a Hollywood docudrama).
This is one of those films that's controversial because it shows us what many people find taboo or don't want to talk about. What's shown here is quite extreme, and it's not to say that all religion, nor all Christianity, is like this. Rather, this is a snippet of a particular sector, a particular camp and certain people that can't be generalised. But it is fascinating to watch, even if it is hard to stomach. The content is raw in that it comes from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and the links to politics and the huge masses of these types of cults over America alone puts in to perspective just how huge a seemingly small and lesser-known about cult following actually is.
Further praise for the DVD comes in the form of media publications, including : 'A documentary that's funny, sad and horrifying in about equal measure' - Empire, 'Brave, thoughtful documentary' - Time Out and 'Powerful, sad and very worrying' - The Independent. I agree with all the above, except perhaps for the part about it being funny. It was definitely quite bold and horrifying, and a very powerful attempt at shining light on this cult-like group of individuals and children that they 'recruit'.
Overall, I would recommend this, but you need to have some patience. If you're like me, you'll probably find it horrific and disgusting, irritating and infuriating yet sad at the same time.
DVD released 2008, though I believe it was produced 2005. Running time 87 minutes, rated Certificate 12.
Selling on Amazon for £5.99
Summary: A documentary that's both insightful and infuriating - worth a watch if you can stomach it
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