Review by Michael Jacobson
Directors: Heidi Ewing,
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 84 Minutes
Release Date: January 23, 2007
“God hears the cries of children.”
Your reaction to Jesus Camp will be indicative of your own core values and beliefs. For many, as it appears in reviews from coast to coast, this film will terrify more than any offering from John Carpenter or Wes Craven. For others, it will offer possibly their first real hope for the future in a long time. Some will look at these kids and fear for the future, but others will recognize that the next time a plane knocks down a skyscraper or a subway station gets blown up or, God forbid, a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon gets detonated in a major metropolitan area, it won’t be one of these kids that did it.
The movie documents the work of a Pentecostal minister named Becky Fischer who has dedicated her life to God and focuses her work on the young people of America. In an era where school shootings, discipline problems, and kids suing their teachers with the gleeful backing of the ACLU are all commonplace, these are children who love God and love their neighbors as themselves. They would rather share the message of Jesus Christ with a total stranger than rob him or beat him or murder him.
Fischer runs a “Kids on Fire” camp in North Dakota, where she teaches very visual lessons to children and their parents from all across the fruited plains. They hold tiny models of weeks-old embryos in their hands and think about the sanctity of life. They pray for each other and our leaders. They love America, their families, and God.
To some, the very images put forth in this film are scarier than watching the World Trade Center collapse and thousands of people dying in a matter of seconds. For some reason, they aren’t afraid of religions that teach children to strap dynamite to their little bodies and kill themselves and others, but the one that teaches them respect for life leaves them quaking in their boots.
These kids are absolutely incredible…I wish I could have gotten to know them personally, but in a way, this movie as directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady made me feel like I did. There’s Levi, a 12 year old who is outspoken about his love for Jesus and seems to be a charismatic young preacher in the making. There’s Rachael, a sweet-faced girl who takes a moment in a bowling alley to offer a young woman a tract and to remind her that God loves her. There’s Tory, who loves to dance before the Lord the way David once did.
Many of them are home schooled, so instead of being indoctrinated by public schools into the religion of Darwinism and environmentalism, they learn about the Founding Fathers and the sacredness of life. In one minute-long lesson on global warming, there’s more true science and facts than you’ll find in An Inconvenient Truth’s entire running time.
The fear some people have of Evangelical Christians, of which I’m not one (I’m a Catholic), is not so much religion but politics. And the politics comes down to life issues; whether or not it is right to kill an unborn baby in the wound or to dispatch of our elderly when they become a bother. And though political ideologies encompass a much wider range of topics than those, life issues are important to Bible believers and yes, they do tend to vote accordingly.
While many scorn President George W. Bush for his outspoken faith, these kids admire it and even pray for him (and the President in turn has said on many occasions how much the prayers of Americans mean to him and his family). And while an Air America radio talk show host proclaims that Evangelicals have taken over the courts (leaving us to wonder if that's true, how we’ve had abortion on demand in our land for most of my lifetime and how a student who mentions God in school can get suspended or expelled) these kids believe they can bring about important change through love, perseverance and the help of God.
It may not be the message everyone wants to hear, but when you consider the horror stories of youths in America in gangs, in jails, or worse, in graves, seeing these children excited about something positive and good and dreaming of doing great things in their lives with love instead of with guns and bombs, you can’t help but feel as you watch this movie that the future isn’t as bleak as we tend to believe.
Maybe these kids don’t like Harry Potter. Maybe when Rachael talks about some churches being too cold and quiet, she’s talking about mine. But maybe, just maybe, when they reach their teen years, they won’t be statistics. Maybe they’ll carry the fire from camp with them into adulthood and never get involved in drugs, gangs, violence, or suicide.
Maybe, maybe not. But with God, all things are possible.
This full frame presentation shows some of the normal limitations of a lower budgeted film, but the overall effect is still quite nice, with solid colors and good detail. There’s a bit of grain noticeable here and there, but nothing terribly distracting.
The 2.0 mix has fair dynamic range, but nothing in the material will require a lot of demands on your sound system. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the intermittent music is effective.
The commentary track from the co-directors is sparse…in fact, there will be moments when you forget it’s on, because they seem to be watching more than discussing. There are 15 deleted scenes as well.
Many will call it a frightening film, but for some, myself included, Jesus Camp is a warm glimpse at the future with a glimmer of hope. All you have to do is turn on your television every day of the week to remind yourself that there are a lot of possible outcomes for our children much more terrifying than learning to love God and each other with all their little hearts.