Thoughts on… Jesus Camp (2006)

poster250x312Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Jesus Camp (2006) is a documentary that focuses on a fundamentalist, evangelical Pentecostal Christian church that holds a camp every summer to discuss issues of faith with children and adolescents. The documentary observes the activities and sermons at the camp, and how these activities are then transferred into the everyday lives of the kids who attend.

  1. I watched this documentary tonight so this is almost like an immediate purging of my feelings rather than a well-thought-out review.
  2. If this film wasn’t a documentary, it could easily be a horror film.
  3. It was disturbing to see all these kids shaking and crying in the name of religious activity. I think perhaps that people who are familiar with speaking in tongues and other such behaviours might be more comfortable with this, but for me, it was truly scary.
  4. We’re introduced to a couple of kids who go to the camp and I thought it was really cute how the 9 year old girl wanted to open a Christian nail salon. She did speak as though she’d been fed a lot of information, but at the same time it was interesting to note that she still had personal interests outside of her faith; something that isn’t represented with many of the other characters.
  5. Same goes for the 10 year old girl who loved Christian heavy metal music and dancing in the name of God (rather than dancing “for the flesh”). She had some sick breakdancing moves.
  6. Even scarier than the speaking in tongues and the shaking and crying was watching these people attempt to talk with any kind of authority about the merits of science versus the glory of Creationism. Again – it’s like a horror movie.
  7. However, the scary moments were occasionally balanced by humour. For example, when the leader of the camp is quoted as saying, “I love the American lifestyle!” just as the camera pans over an entire street full of fast food restaurants. There’s another funny moment as she asks God to bless her Powerpoint presentations to make sure they work properly, and then we watch as she chooses the right font for a Powerpoint presentation about sin. She eventually chooses the font that looks as if it has blood dripping off it.
  8. Another hilarious moment was where the camp leader denied that she had any political intentions with the activities at the camp, just after she had made all the kids smash cups that represented the separation of church and state in schools, and the apparent control that the government has over religious expression.
  9. The evangelical Christian voice is balanced by a more progressive Christian radio host, who was occasionally featured discussing the state of Christianity in America and the ways that fundamentalists are affecting American politics. The presence of this radio host gave my nerves a rest. Even though it was a good resting moment, this was the radio host’s only role and he stuck out like a sore thumb. He didn’t contribute to the overall camp story, he just popped up with an alternative viewpoint from time to time. Reflecting on this, he seems like a strange addition. Maybe there weren’t any other people willing to provide a voice to balance the story.
  10. It’s tough to say whether this film was attempting to make a particular comment about the camp. It’s interesting that it just shows us the camp, the children, and the things they do, without really making any comment on it.
  11. The film allows the characters to speak for themselves rather than having a concrete conflict to resolve. In this way it doesn’t have to point out any contradictions or flaws because they naturally appear (if you choose to see them).
  12. I think it depends which viewpoint you’re coming from, in terms of how you’d interpret this film. If you’re an evangelical or fundamentalist Christian, you might think the activities are all normal and justifiable. But if you don’t follow those particular beliefs, or if you don’t have any religious beliefs at all – this is the scariest film you’ll see in a long time.
  13. There’s great music as well. There was an amazing rap about Jesus as the kids got to the camp which was pretty wack, but I loved it in an ironic way. (Edit: I found the rap! Be prepared for some questionable dance moves though.) There’s some very effective percussion music whilst the kids are listening to a sermon, that builds and builds as the inevitable conclusion of speaking in tongues and religious hysteria occurs. The final credits of the film are set to ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum, which was absolutely perfect.
  14. I am confident in saying that Jesus Camp was one of the most anxious and uncomfortable experiences of my film-watching life. There were moments when my jaw just dropped, and an unidentifiable sense of pain was stuck in my chest. Maybe it was a cardiac arrest. Some moments had me swearing at the screen. Any film that consists of making kids cry and look absolutely psychologically traumatised is horrible for me to watch, personally. But at the same time I’m glad I’ve watched it because it’s a very effective documentary.
  15. Oh, and this video is probably the best thing to come out of this film.

Watch this film at Amazon!

40 comments

  1. I honestly think watching this would depress me! I don’t agree with indoctrinating kids so young. Fair enough if you want to raise them in your religion but there’s no need to scare them. Focus on the good things about your religion and let the kids decide for themselves.

    The rap does sound amazing though!

    1. It can be pretty depressing! But it’s still very interesting. You can see parents taking control of their kids’ minds all over the place in this film. At one point the preacher lady asks “Who loves Jesus?” or something similar, and a mother lifts up her child’s arm when she doesn’t lift it herself. I was like “Oh, snap”.

      I found a link to the rap if you want to listen to it whilst clicking your fingers like a cool jazz person! I linked it above somewhere!

  2. theipc · · Reply

    UGH – thanks for doing this one for us….

  3. This doc really is jaw-droppingly horrifying. You should also check out Hell House for more Christian wackiness.

    1. Hell House sounds really interesting, have popped it on the list! Thanks for the rec. 🙂 Even though this stuff gives me a borderline cardiac arrest with anxiety, I just keep going back for more.

  4. Gosh, Anna! You watched two horror films back-to-back! Btw, I saw the Polish movie “Ida” in theaters recently. I think you might enjoy it. As for me, I’m not sure what to think! It’s definitely a visual treat, though.

    1. I know, I can’t believe I survived both this and Mommie Dearest. Ida sounds like something I would totally be into! I haven’t seen too many Polish films so I’m going to give it a go. Thank you for the rec! 🙂

  5. I need to see this.

    1. You definitely should! Would love to hear your thoughts on it!

      1. Just saw this and what a disturbing watch!! I wonder how the scary young Justin Bieber-ish with appalling hairstyle has grown up to be. I feel really, really bad for the kids.

        1. Yeah! I recently Googled the film to see what the kids are up to nowadays. Looks like they’re still very passionate about fundamentalism! I feel really bad for them too. You can tell they would have a lot of potential outside of that toxic environment. Not cool.

  6. Even reading this post gave me that tight feeling in my chest, I can’t imagine what it was like to sit through it all.

    1. I think I got through it because of the random radio host! And the unintentional humour. A pretty anxious experience overall though!

  7. Wow… I’m not sure I could get through this. Religion makes me so angry…

    1. I’m glad I was watching it with friends because otherwise I would have had to pause it a couple of times to take some deep breaths and give myself a rest. Particularly when all the kids were being yelled at about abortion. Very, very difficult to watch! But it’s still well worth a watch!

  8. I saw a clip of Jesus Camp but have no desire to see the doc in its entirety. I agree that it’s very uncomfortable to watch those kids being indoctrinated; I don’t know, it seems forced. As a Christian myself (not evangelical), I always fear movies based on extreme forms of religions give people a negative and warped idea. I wished a documentary film crew visited the Christian camp I attended 14 years ago…man, they would be bored to tears.

    1. I went to a couple of church camps as a kid too, because my best friend’s family was super church-active. And I agree, it was such a different experience to this film! Watching this, I was just thinking, “Where’s all the arts and crafts?!”. What a boring camp for kids though! They’re just getting yelled at and speaking tongues the whole time, and then they get to go on the swingset and occasionally do some go-karting. Even though I’m not religious, I’ll be the first person to stand up and say this doesn’t represent Christianity as a whole. I was happy that the film seemed to be wary of this, and referred to the behaviours within the context of specific denominational names and names of certain religious organisations, rather than general umbrella terms. A very uncomfortable yet also very interesting viewing experience!

  9. Big love is an interesting watch, so is electric children:) I’m not really interested in the doco but I did attend a revival meeting once so sa it all first hand. They made me denounce satan and witchcraft lolz fun times 😉

    1. I love Big Love! Have to get up to date on that one. They talked a bit about witchcraft in this and the lady gave a huge speech about how Harry Potter is evil. Made me sad because Harry Potter is the best!

  10. This sounds horrifying. I feel so bad for these children… “documentary” and “horror film” and “kids” shouldn’t go together. You are very brave for watching this!

    1. Haha, thanks Elina! 🙂 It isn’t a fun combination, and is quite horrifying. There’s only so many close-up shots of kids’ crying faces one can stand!

  11. Sounds pretty awesome, in a disturbing way!

    1. All in all it’s a really effective documentary, that’s for sure!

  12. It was a disturbing documentary indeed…it has been some years since I saw it, but it is crazy to see how strong opinions of others can impact these kids.

    1. It is totally crazy and disturbing. And frustrating. But still a very good documentary!

  13. I saw a bit of this and was done. I get really frustrated with films like this because they tend to promote a broad branding of a group by focusing on a certain (and rather extreme) branch. So many will take a movie like this to formulate their perception of “evangelicals” or “fundamentalists” when there is a massive number of Christians who do not prescribe to these far-out emotion-driven movements. Some of the things mentioned and shown are not only outside of genuine evangelicalism but they are outside a biblical Christianity. Unfortunately many will see it and lump it all together.

    1. People who take this film and use it to base their opinion on all branches of Christianity are just as bad as the people this film showcases! I can’t comprehend that kind of hypocrisy. I think the film does attempt to be very specific with the portrayal of this group, to ensure that people don’t form a generalised opinion, but unfortunately there will always be people who do that. Just like people who assume Australia is just like Crocodile Dundee or assume that Japan is just like an anime film. Really silly.

      1. Very well said. That aside, the movie certainly disturbs. That “movement” focuses so much on emotional frenzies and wild “theology”. But to see it coming from children by the push of adults is very uncomfortable.

        1. Absolutely. And it’s when the kids are hyped up into an emotional frenzy where the film is at its most disturbing. Very uncomfortable indeed, and I just felt so sorry for the kids! Childhood should be about happiness and emotional safety, rather than the radical negativity on display here!

  14. This sounds freaky and weird! Those poor kids!

    1. It’s super freaky and weird! For some reason I didn’t feel so bad for the adults, but it was horrible to see the kids being manipulated and having to deal with the adults’ choices for them.

      1. Agreed the kids didn’t ask to be there, it’s unfair to them to be brought up like that.

  15. […] talented Anna from Film Grimoire struck more than a few chords with her Thoughts on… Jesus Camp (2006). Check it out, it’s a thought-provoking one. Fellow Mass Effect enthusiast Rhio, from […]

  16. […] was more frightening than any gory flick you could imagine. I first heard about this movie from Anna from Film Grimoire who introduced us all to the classic rap song ‘JC in da house’ featured in Jesus Camp […]

  17. […] film along the same lines as Jesus Camp (2006), Hell House (2001, dir. George Ratliff) is quite horrifying, but not for the reasons you […]

  18. This sounds absolutely insane, but like something worth looking into (especially studying what I do), it looks like it could be interesting though frustrating. I will have to check it out.

    1. What do you study? This was possibly one of the scariest non-horror films I’ve ever seen. But it’s still well worth a watch.

      1. I am studying psychology, so obviously all these things are exceptionally interesting for me! I will definitely check it out!

  19. […] which focus on uncovering the evils of religion are a particular favourite of mine to watch, and this documentary is no exception, […]

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