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4.0 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars
Jesus Camp [DVD]
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on 7 May 2008
There isn't a single swear word and no nudity or violence in this film and yet this is possibly the most disturbing and horrific piece of cinema I've ever witnessed.

Encapsulates everything that is wrong with fundamentalist religion, in this case Christianity. You will never witness a more wrenching hypocrisy than the female 'teacher' of the camp telling the kids that the enemy knows that kids are vulnerable and impressionable and that's why they're teaching them these things now to 'protect' them. Or the image of the parent dragging a toddler's arm into the air in response to a question that presumably required an affirmative answer in the parent's warped mind.

This film is essential (if somewhat stomach-churning) viewing in order to understand a part of American society that is becoming increasingly influential in decisions regarding the US's (already overly enthuastic) warmongering making these people potentially far more of a threat to world peace than the likes of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda could ever hope to be.
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on 24 December 2009
I actually thought this was a great documentary. The topic aside, I felt like the filmmakers, Ewing and Grady, had really done their research, and I was surprised by how extensive their interviews were. There were maybe three or four children that they focussed on and all of them were interviewed in their own environments, in a place where they obviously felt comfortable. They were all given a chance to say their piece, as was the preacher, Becky Fischner.

I have to admit, there were a few moments when I wondered if I was being manipulated into thinking and feeling a certain way. One scene springs to mind, when during a sermon, there was a wailing, somewhat melodramatic music/song happening. Just as I was thinking that it was a cheat-like of the filmmakers to add a dramatic score over a relatively dramatic shot, the camera panned left and there was a woman wailing into a microphone, which I presume is supposed to help bring the children to religious ecstacy. So that just sort of told me that it wasn't neccessarily the filmmakers doing the manipulating.

As another reviewer said, they seem to be just pointing the camera and shooting, with no obvious enhancements for dramatic effect. I can only appreciate that, as by the end I felt that I was mostly able to decide for myself. The film is in no way unbiased, but then the subjects within the film could hardly be considered unbiased.

In terms of the topic, I thought it was a good one to cover in a world where we mostly seem to focus on Islamic fundamentalism. We seem to forget that there are many other religions out there with their own special branches of people who are taking it too far.

I think the thing that I found most compelling was the fact that the preacher seemed to really believe what she was saying. She spoke with such conviction that I could see how people would be easily swayed by her, particularly children. I think that frightened me more than anything. Her passion was almost alarming, that is until we got to the kids.

The kids were disturbing. They were all so serious and adult like. At one point a twelve year old boy told the preacher that at the age of five, he was depressed and thought there was nothing more to life until he heard the word of God. Well, the preacher was pleased at any rate. Myself, I wasn't sure whether to scoff or to scream. If that really were the case, which I doubt that it is, and the boy really was depressed at five years old, then I think what we should all be concerned about is the loss of childhood, and of innocence. Clearly, we don't have to worry too much about imagination, there seemed to be plenty going round.
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on 23 June 2017
The film's camera switch is too montage. I watched it during the vacation. The film is ok. The actors performed very well. The plot was dramatic and thrilling. The ending is not perfect, but I like it very much.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 November 2007
As the closing credits roll we hear Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." The lyric goes something like, "I got a friend in Jesus...He's going to set me up with the spirit in the sky...when I die...I'm going to go to the place that's the best."

A similar point-blank irony suffuses this engaging documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. Norman Greenbaum had his tongue firmly in cheek, of course, but Becky Fischer and her fellow molders of children are serious. She believes in indoctrinating the children and she says so. She points out that in Muslim lands the children are similarly indoctrinated, and even more so. It is a war. The word "war" is used repeatedly at Jesus Camp which was located (ironically, I guess) in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. It's a war that must be won, and implicitly the war is against liberals and mainstream American culture, but explicitly against science, especially biological evolution, and against other faiths. Becky pretends to apologize before telling us that Christianity has The Truth and therefore should triumph over other religions, creeds and cultures. She believes that. There can be no question about the sincerity of her beliefs.

What struck me most powerfully is what was REALLY being taught at Jesus Camp. That is, methods of indoctrination. Behind all the rhetoric about Jesus and being saved was the political agenda for the fundamentalist movement. Part Nazi rally, part revival meeting, part Brainwashing 101, what really came across were all the persuasive techniques that Becky Fischer, Ted Haggard and the others had perfected. Suffer the little children indeed. Get 'em while they're young, Becky tells us. The impressions made and beliefs instilled in children before the age of, say eight, will last a lifetime, she tells us.

She says she loves America. We see out of a car window the endless sameness of asphalt roads, telephone poles and electric wires, KFC restaurants and car dealerships that form the main streets of most any American town. I doubt that she loves the America of the Museum of Modern Art or the America of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson or the redwoods or the Grand Canyon. Becky says that she loves America, and then she says she prays to get away from this awful world--or words to that effect.

I find it tough to find credence in people who devote their lives to manipulating the emotions of children in an effort to create a new generation of opportunists (or zombies) to mindlessly champion the slogans of their political and social agenda. How sad it was to see young Levi O'Brien--bright, talented and impressionable beyond his years--being molded into a future TV evangelist. He will learn the clever deceit practiced not by people like Becky Fischer, who as I said, is a true believer, but more like Ted Haggard himself or any number of moneyed evangelical personalities who preach one thing in public and in their private lives do something else. He will learn the same techniques that Becky and Ted have learned, techniques of rhetoric and persuasion, of indoctrination and the manipulation of emotions. He will learn what leads to success in evangelical land, that truth comes from religious authority and political and economic power, and that anyone who thinks differently is an enemy.

Becky Fischer thinks liberal America will be worried after seeing this documentary. Her ability to mold children into her brand of Christianity should scare us, she thinks. But revivalist America comes and goes with the passing of time. We've seen it all before. What is different today is that evangelicals were able to elect somebody like George W. Bush and to control the Congress and cow the media. I think America has seen where that leads, to the weakening and embarrassment of America; and I am betting that America has learned its lesson and that the politicians who would do the work of the faith-based, ignorance-based, head-in-the-sand, evangelical movement will lose out to more enlightened leadership. After all, unlike Becky, most of us and our children must live in this world without the fantasy of imminent rapture, and therefore must work toward making the world a better place for all of us.
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on 5 November 2012
This is a clear example of what churches and Christians are becoming. They change the meaning of words and so on, and this DVD shows the consequences of this. Their elite and exclusive way of thinking seems to take away common sense.
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on 8 January 2012
I saw this documentary some time ago in the cinema and at the time was surprised that so few people knew about it. I consider it a classic. I think it is hard to make such a documentary and stay objective and yet the director does a good job at it. One can see that the people involved really believe in what they are doing and are really quite good at organizing themselves etc. They are very motivated.
I suppose some people may find it all absolutely fine but some others will be really scared by it!
I offered it as a Christmas present to some movie buffs I know.
I hope they find it as interesting as I did, even if it does not make for easy watching ...
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on 7 May 2008
There's been a certain amount of debate about whether the portrayal of evangelical Christianity in this film is fair or accurate. It's hard to see how much there is to complain about in this respect since most of the film simply consists of pointing a camera at what's happening. Obviously it's possible for film-makers to subtlely affect your perceptions of what's happening through their editing and the use of music and so on, so perhaps we should be aware of that. However, one thing is abundantly clear. What's happening here is utterly, utterly sick. If you can watch this film and not feel angry about what you see happening then something has happened to desensitise you to the bullying and manipulation of children, and you should be worried about yourself as well as them.

The film centres around Becky Fischer's "Kids on Fire" camp where children go to get "fired up" for Jesus, and they certainly do get fired up. They're given very little choice when Becky Fischer is screaming at them that they are essentially bad or weak people if they're not willing to get fired up for Jesus. She talks about how some children may have been living a double-life, believing one thing on a Sunday and living differently when they're at school. She says that to live this way makes them phonies and hypocrites and she works them up into an anguished state about their need to be forgiven for these "sins". These children seem genuinely distressed and many of them cry. There are a number of clips where the children explain "their" philosophies about things and it is perfectly clear that they could not have come to these kinds of conclusions independently. They have clearly had their heads filled with various ideas about what is good and what is evil, what God wants and even "what kind of churches he is likely to turn up at". They are encouraged to mock evolution and any other theories of science which conflict with the Bible.

Of course the real villains here are the adults, people like Becky Fischer and Ted Haggard. Becky Fischer is simply a bully and a scaremonger and she clearly has no respect for other people. She only wishes to instill "the truth" into children's minds without any consideration of whether she has the right to interfere with them in this way. Ted Haggard however is an utter creep. When I saw him talking to a young boy called Levi who was an aspiring preacher I desparately wanted to tell him to get away from him. His bitterness and cynicism were plainly evident and it was horrible to hear the way he was speaking to this young boy. However this young boy clearly chose to overlook the wierdness of Haggard's attitude because he's been taught that anyone who preaches Jesus has to be a good guy.

There are a few moments in this film which will make you laugh, such as the lamentable Christian hip-hop used at one of the meetings - "hey homie, we're kicking it for Christ", and Becky Fischer solemnly commanding the devil not to interfere with her powerpoint presentation. Mostly though you'll probably find yourself laughing to avoid crying. These people have lost all perspective about everything, and they're riding the train to insanityville. A situation like this can only end badly for all concerned, especially the children who obviously believe what they're being told and are willing to stake their lives on it. There's so much that's wrong with what's happening here that you could write a book on it, so it's hard to do justice to it in a short review. All I would say is that there should be some way of holding these people to account. They have no right to do the things they're doing and these children need to be protected from this madness. Let's keep speaking out against this woeful abuse of children and hope that we may be able to make a difference.
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on 25 July 2007
What makes Jesus Camp such a great documentary, is the fact that there is no specific for or against stance from the makers. It follows a series of events, some interviews, but there's no critical questioning of what happens. The fact that this "screams" anti-jesus camp (and religion for that matter) is all a result of what is portrayed. Betty Fischer comes off as a total fundamentalist, who manipulates and uses children for her cause to create a christian world (though I doubt that Jesus would be particularly happy with her approach). It is an eye opener with regard to the way children are exposed to religion. Small chrildren lying on the floor shaking it what is supposed to be a trance led on by faith, though it looks more like acting on the part of the child, trying to be part of the group (and probably believes they are experiencing something religious as well). Betty Fischer and her collegues seem to blame anything negative on the devil, resulting in one scene in a blessing of the projector (so it will not malfunction during the jesus camp presentation). Though rather comical, it is still incredibly sad, especially when we see her later on chanting "this means war", and "are you in or are you out" (or something to that effect. Can't remember exactly right off the bat).

It is a strong message to the world that religion is something that should be personal, and not forced on children before they can make up their minds on their own. I continue to be shocked by the need to believe in something other than oneself, and can only recommend people to take the time to read Richard Dawkins, as well as do a search online on him. His documentary "the root of all evil" should be mandatory in all schools.

Watch Jesus Camp. You'll be angry afterwards, but it's important to see how religious groups and people (and I don't mean everyone of course, but some) abuse children in the name of jesus and god.
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on 31 October 2011
The Americans in this documentary have a clear view of "Jeeesusssss" that less developed nations like the UK have simply not GOT yet. Firstly the US Jesus was obviously a card carrying Republican and gun toting member of the NRA - this is really quite obvious to them when they interpret some of the stuff he supposedly said, particularly on key issues of the infinite cosmos such as homosexuality or abortion. Secondly he we was quite clearly an American (as was GOD, although Satan, being red, was probably Russian). Thirdly he will definitely come again in our life time (no doubt about this), possibly astride a Harley Davidson and packing a Magnum firearm and he will save all the REAL American's from those nasty, Satan loving, namby pamby, commie Democrats. Finally he looks absolutely 100% like a white Caucasian Rock Star, standing 7 foot tall in a crisp white shawl, not a 5 foot Middle Eastern Bin Laden lookey likey gentleman in a dusty smock and a big straggly beard. Add to this the firm belief in a very real and tangible devil figure in a skin tight red cat suit with horns and a HELL far more real than a night in with George Bush and you have the perfect concoction for some down-right bonkers attitudes shared amongst a fair proportion of the population of the US, depicted quite neatly in this stomach churning DVD.

Bill Maher's Religulous deals with the mind numbing silliness of these literal bible beliefs head on but ends with the stark peroration that it's all going to end in tears. 'Jesus Camp' picks up the story from this point - which, unlike Religulous, is not remotely amusing. The basic premise of these crucifix wielding zealots is that in order to take on fanatical Islam, America needs to arm the `children' with the same level of fanaticism and terror as bomb toting suicide bombers - this is plainly a war to Betty, the main protagonist of this nightmare, and the solution here is, quite simply, mental child abuse. This is not a comfortable watch and is deeply depressing on every level - children cry uncontrollably, rant in tongues and have convulsive fits on the floor as they experience the full force of cynical adult indoctrination based on fear and loathing at its most sinister level.

The irony is that the voice of `reason' in the documentary is a moderate Christian radio presenter who fails to see that his indoctrination happened when he too was a child and that his beliefs were equally shoved down his throat, albeit in a more gently persuasive way - if he had been born in Palestine his parents would have forced him to believe in one deity, if born in India it would have been another mutually exclusive deity.

Frankly at the end of this you are left in no doubt that the US is going to hell in a hand cart and our only hope is that they implode unilaterally without dragging down the whole World. Not an easy watch, partly as you sit on the sidelines as a powerless non American observer, but a good documentary none the less.
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on 29 May 2012
I think this arguably this is one of the most disturbing documentaries I've seen. Let me lay my cards on the table by stating that I am a research scientist in the field of public health. The claims fundementalism make about science "proving", show how little they actually understand how it works. Science merely describes an observation which is constantly tested and re tested following where ever the trail leads. Without the "evil" of science many of the children in this documovie may well have perished of smallpox, polio or any number of other diseases. The tragedy is that any child seen in such distressed states while being shown models of fetuses by anti abortionists in any other arena may well have been taken by child services.
There are without doubt wrong doers on both sides of the equation but no one, I repeat no one should pervert the innocent minds of children. Some of the hysteria is reminisent of a certain national socialist in pre WW2 Germany.
This is a balanced portrayal well worth the look if you have the stomach for it. My apologies to those who will view this not dealing with the review but rather as a rebuttal. As a thinking member of the human race to which I have dedicated a life time of research to improve the health and quality of life for my fellow man, I am incenced!
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