If ‘Jesus Camp’ won any film awards, I would have to be frank and say the only reason would be the controversial subject matter. It seems the only time a person is commended for bashing faith is in documentary form. The cinematography lacks ambition, the editing seems amateur and the structure falls behind drastically. The litmus test in my opinion for a great documentary is the sense of disappointment at the conclusion – it could not come quicker with this film.
Don’t get me wrong, I winced often at the shameful treatment of children being “trained” for Christ, but the film not only missed a 3 act structure, but it ended running in random circles to the point where the end felt like a none-end. Normally by the final scene we find ourselves so tormented with the subject matter that one feels compelled to start picketing and fighting (metaphorically) for the cause; no such thing here. I understand that many find this film outstanding, I know it has a high rating on popular review sites – but for me – it is flat and only achieves satisfaction due to my unwavering support of anything anti-stupidity.
Let’s put aside the shoddy amateur output and focus on the input. The flick revolves around an overweight overzealous preacher, and a camp to which she administers. You see countless shots of crying children, begging to be saved, from what – I doubt they know. Many instances of jaw dropping horror and disgust, mostly from the unabashed honesty of said female preacher; at one point she admits live on radio that she is indoctrinating children, although she would rather use the word “teach”, wouldn’t we all. The part I found most appalling was the notion of anti Muslim fighters, of course, I am the least bit a fan of Islam – but the rhetoric used was damn near xenophobic. As to why she had to “teach” these children, because in the middle-east they are giving 5 year old’s hand grenades and making them memorise the Quran. On the surface, I understand her point, in a sense education has to be the best way to beat fundamental extremism or literal translating of middle-eastern holy books – but would a secular education not do better? Why fight fire with fire, when you can fight it with water? Water, in this scenario being knowledge.
It pains me to see a child say “I got saved at 5 … because I just wanted more out of life.” At 5 you should be playing with your friends and imagining far away lands with heroes and swords and magic, not saving yourself from hell-fire in the light of the lord. Children should not be indoctrinated into religion, they should be rolling in the mud, playing tag, and hiding vegetables in their mash.
If this film had been conducted in a more formulated way, it could have become one of the near cult status documentaries known the world over like “An Inconvenient Truth” or “The Cove”, unfortunately it is destined to be another anti-religion documentary that we can hide at the bottom of our dvd collection – which is a shame as the subject matter and scenes filmed within the dreaded Jesus Camp are so hard hitting and unsettling, that one feels undersold. I beg there is a directors cut flying around the internet that blows this out of the water like many Hollywood bombs – but I won’t hold my breath on this.
I would say 1.5 to 2 stars out 5 for this. But by all means watch and take in the subtle moments of sheer breathtaking horror that only religion could produce.