The documentary â€œJesus Campâ€ is an all-access pass to the â€œKids on Fireâ€ summer camp for Evangelical Christian pre-teens. There, kids are trained to become â€œChristian Soldiersâ€ on a mission to spread scorched-earth fundamentalism throughout what the organizers refer to as â€œthis sick, old world.â€
The campâ€™s children and adult counselors open up for the cameras with an unguarded (and often cringe-inducing) honesty. At a church service, eight-year-olds speak in tongues, their bodies vibrating, their eyes wet with ecstatic tears. Toe-heads cheerily pledge to bring the same fervor to their Christian faith that Muslim suicide bombers bring to theirs. The campâ€™s preacher tells her young flock that their generation will likely see the Apocalypse and the end of the times. And the kids couldnâ€™t be happier.
But this film is no anti-Christian polemic. The filmmakers present the above scenes without judgment or Michael Moore style snarkiness. Rather than just trying to elicit â€œfoam at the mouthâ€ sound bites, the filmmakers give the interviewees long takes in which to explain themselves and their views.
As a result, the way you see the film will depend largely on the way you see the world. Depending on your political and religious beliefs, the camp will either represent: (1) an important spiritual education for kids confronted with an increasingly depraved world or (2) an American Madrassa converting innocent children into rabid extremists.
The filmâ€™s primary weakness is its failure to bring in outside perspectives to weigh in on the camp and its participants. What would a psychologist have to say about the effects of all this fire and brimstone on the psyche of a young child? The children are home-schooled so that they learn about Christ instead of Copernicus and Eden instead of Evolution. Are there studies on what effect this insular environment has on the childrenâ€™s ability to socialize? Can they gain entry to major universities without a thorough grounding in science? In this brand of fundamentalism sweeping the nation, or is this more of a splinter faction ignored by other mainline religions.
The film is quite successful in documenting the childrenâ€™s lives and the campâ€™s activities, but I was left wondering how concerned I should beâ€¦buy Quills