'Jesus Camp': Praiseworthy

Friday, September 29, 2006

The evangelical summer camp where most of "Jesus Camp" is set is less a church retreat than a Midwestern madrassa , with the adult counselors bringing their young charges to Christian radicalism by any means necessary -- joking, cajoling, flattering and, well, scaring the bejesus out of them.

And that, the film's subjects might say, is just the point. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady -- who made the wonderful film "The Boys of Baraka" last year -- have made a similarly riveting documentary here, one that will leave some viewers, as the camp leader predicts, "shaking in their boots" and others invigorated and inspired. (See Film Notes on Page 38.) The filmmakers gained extraordinary access to children's pastor Becky Fischer, who uses Barbie dolls and rubber brains to drive home her scriptural points; and, as in "Baraka," they capture their young subjects at their most vulnerable, whether they're in states of tongue-speaking ecstasy or, in the case of a 9-year-old girl, nervously evangelizing at a bowling alley.

"Jesus Camp" is often funny (just listen to Becky fulminate against Harry Potter), but it's also a scary, sobering inside look at the attempts of an increasingly powerful group to erode the separation of church and state. What's the Christian word for caliphate?

-- Ann Hornaday

Jesus Camp PG-13, 85 minutes Contains some discussions of mature subject matter. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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