Discussing 'Jesus Camp'

Jesus Camp
A scene from the movie "Jesus Camp." (Magnolia Pictures)
Heidi Ewing
Friday, October 6, 2006; 12:00 PM

The documentary "Jesus Camp" examines the evangelical Christian community through the prism of a summer camp for Christian children. The Post's Ann Hornaday calls the film "a candid and compelling portrait of young people forging their identities at the physical and psychic extremes."

Directors of "Jesus Camp," Heidi Ewing , will be online Friday, Oct. 6 at noon ET to discuss the movie and her work as a documentary filmmaker. Ewing, who grew up in Washington, D.C. also produced the documentary, "Boys of Baraka," which tracked the experiences of several inner-city Baltimore youths sent to live in Kenya as part of a special program.

Read the review of "Jesus Camp."

Submit questions either before or during the discussion.

A transcript follows.


Heidi Ewing: I'm ready to go. Throw ''em at me.


New Hampshire: Hi Ms. Ewing and thank you very much for bringing this to light.

I watched the trailer for the movie and was chilled to the core. I believe in religious freedom, but I have to say that I think this is child abuse and brainwashing at the very least. I think that we are living in dark times indeed. Since when is it okay to mix church and state in this way? Worship of the president in our country by the youngest among us? I am truly frightened for the soul of this nation.

Heidi Ewing: This film asks a lot of questions and it doesn't pretend to know all the answers. One of the issues the film brings up is when does education become indoctrination, become brainwashing. The people in our film would say if you don't like what's someone's doing, you call it brainwashing and if you like it, you call it education. I think that is an interesting concept. It's a matter of opinion.

After contemplating this issue for a year while making the movie I think Rachel (co-director) and I came to the conclusion that child abuse is too strong a term.

Since you only the trailer which is admittedly slightly over the top I recommend you see the entire film because it gives a much fuller treatment of your question.


New York, N.Y.: I know of someone who went to another camp, and it seemed as if the idea was to physically and mentally break a child down until they are willing to accept, without question, the philosophy of the religious leaders. This reminded me of the techniques of military boot camp. How does what you saw differ from military boot camps?

Heidi Ewing: Rachel and I never encountered teachings on violence at the camp or in the homes of the kids. The education they're receiving is far more potent than learning how to fire a weapon. These children are being infused with an absolutist world view that if taken into adulthood will have a far greater impact on this country than any military boot camp.


Annandale, Va.: I've already seen your movie, I just have one question. In your mind, do you feel that these Christians feel the urge to militarize further, into a sort of David Koresh kind of way? Or is it more just activist fanaticism, and that their words and actions won't ever lean towards violence?

Heidi Ewing: Unlike David Koresh's cult, the people we profile in this film are very much engaged in our society with the hopes of reshaping it to their liking. They have no intention of removing themselves from American life but instead prefer to use their influence to make what they perceive will be a better America. The days of Evangelicals shutting out the rest of us are over. The movement as a whole has recognized that organizing and utilizing our democracy is the only way to achieve the kind of world that they are comfortable with.

_______________________ Heidi Ewing has to break for about 20 minutes, but will return to continue the discussion at about 12:50. Please come back and join us then.


Bethesda, Md.: The inculcation (some would say exploitation) of these teenagers seems to turn the most pliant of them into instant zealots, as witness scenes showing recent Jesus Camp graduates engaging in fervent street evangelism. Has there been any reliable research, by either behavioral scholars or theologians, suggesting how these young people view this training after they reach maturity? Do they remain true believers, embrace more moderate views, become more reflective, or perhaps become agnostics, cynics or even renounce the tenets they precociously accepted?

Heidi Ewing: This is a difficult question to answer because there are conflicting statistics regarding Evangelical teenagers. There is a concerted effort on behalf of the mainstream Evangelical movement to actively keep the teens interested in the church. The jury is still out on what will happen to the kids in our movie. We'd like to go back in 10 years and find out.


Dallas, Tex.: I'm always interested to learn how the subjects of documentaries react to the final product. Have you received praise/condemnation from anyone you've filmed? Did the religious leaders wish to view the product before final editing?

Heidi Ewing: All of the participants in the film were shown the final movie in advance of its theatrical release. Rachel and I provide that opportunity to our subjects on every project. No one was given the right to request any further editing or changes. All of the subjects in the film, with the exception of Pastor Ted Haggard (the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals and a close confidant of President Bush) feel they were accurately portrayed in our film. The parents are proud of the education they are giving their children and were unembarrassed to show us the "training" they are giving their children.

I think access would have been more difficult to obtain 10 years ago when the Evangelical movement as a whole felt less represented in Washington. We found a confident and emboldened group of people that in many ways feel they are winning the culture war.


Washington, D.C.: Heidi,

I really enjoyed "The Boys of Baraka" and plan to see "Jesus Camp" this weekend. What was the most challenging aspect of filming in terms of 'bearing witness' to beliefs and practices that you did not necessarily agree with? In other words, how were you able to suspend judgment and observe through an object[ive] lens? Thanks!

Heidi Ewing: Everyone comes to the table with an opinion about faith. Luckily Rachel, who is Jewish, and I, who was raised a Catholic, had never been either hurt or helped by the Evangelical experience. This allowed us to enter the community with "a beginner's eye," which helped us to reserve judgment and maintain a true curiosity.

some of the more emotional services through a piece of glass also allowed us to be more objective, as we worried about the placement of cameras and directing our cinematographers. Once we began the editing process and had more time to sit and review the material some of the more disturbing aspects of the scenes emerged in stark relief. Our editor (Enat Sidi), Rachel and I constantly "policed" ourselves when we felt any particular judgment or bias was beginning to emerge. We found that introducing a dissenting Christian voice in the form of the radio talk show host that appears in the film created a more balanced piece and allowed the opinion of more liberal people to emerge.


Washington, D.C.: I saw your film at SilverDocs and thought it was fantastic, so kudos for that!

My question is why you included the Air America radio host in the film. He did add an alternative point of view, but I wonder if the separatist nature of the families you profile might have been more profound without him, so I wondered what your rationale was for that portion of the film.

Thanks, and I'll be looking forward to your next film (what will it be about?).

Heidi Ewing: There was a flatness to the film before we introduced a dissenting voice. We felt it was unfair to not acknowledge that many Christians disagree not only with the education the kids in our film are receiving but the politicization of portions of the Evangelical movement. We felt his voice was essential yet he remains a controversial addition to the film.


Motown: I saw "Jesus Camp" at SilverDocs and I think it's fantastic. I went to Baptist Camp, but the only thing they tried to indoctrinate at our camp was a love for Jesus and total abstinence from drugs and alcohol. Nothing really scary like in your documentary.

Passion of the Christ, the "Left Behind" series and even Andy Griffith reruns have been screened in churches all over America. Has "Jesus Camp" been shown in any churches? What was the reaction to it?

Heidi Ewing: "Jesus Camp" has only been shown in a few churches because, I think, there's an inaccurate perception that this film is in some way anti-Christian. That is a shame, because we spent 10 months editing the film in a way that could speak to people from all walks of life. We continue to encourage church screenings and are truly interested in having religious communities weigh on "Jesus Camp."


Silver Spring, Md.: I've seen "Boys of Baraka" and have urged my mom to go see Jesus Camp but she is hesitant because she thinks it is exploitative of children. Give me a good reason to tell her to go see it.

Heidi Ewing: The kids and the parents in this film are pleased with how they are presented in the movie. The children are extraordinarily likable and are not put in a negative light. We leave it to the adults in the film to hash out the heavier political issues. I think your mother should see "Jesus Camp."

_______________________  This conludes our discussion.  Thank you for joining us.


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