DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Camp, Jesus Camp, For the Bible Tells Me So, A Jihad for Love, Friends of GodCamp Out, We're All Angels, Kibbutz, The Children's House, With God on our Side, Conversations with God, Religulous

 

Title:  Jesus Camp

Release Date:  2006

Nationality and Language: USA

Running time: 87 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: Magnolia/A&E Indie

Director; Writer: Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Producer:

Cast:  Becky Fischer

Technical: Video 1.33 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  teens or students at summer camp (varying from gay to evangelical) 

 

Jesus Camp  is a video (made by A&E) documentary about "the born again" Evangelical movement and how it is used to influence or "indoctrinate" kids. The film is in 4:3 aspect ratio (digital video), so it looks like it was intended for cable broadcast soon.  The title of the film sounds a bit like a pun. It traces the activities of evangelist activist Becky Fischer, from Lees Summit, MO (near Kansas City), who in the middle part of the film takes the kids to a summer camp called "Kids on Fire," in Devils Lake, ND.  That particular area sometimes has the nation's lowest readings in winter. As I lived in Minnesota for six years, it does not seem to me that the Dakotas are particularly populated with evangelistic denominations, who seem to be most heavily represented in the lower midwest and in the South (also, as pointed out in the film, Colorado Springs).

The film maintains that 25% of Americans belong to evangelical churches. (In Dallas, in the 1980s, I belonged to a gay group called "Evangelicals Concerned," started by Dr. Ralph Blair in 1975; Dr. Blair was familiar with the secular and psychological Ninth Street Center, discussed elsewhere on this site). Early on, the film presents an authoritarian way to teach the Gospel to kids. The children are told that their counterparts in the Muslim world are being indoctrinated to become suicide bombers; Islam is the enemy. The world is divided into camps of believers and non-believers, with loyalty to the right side the paramount issue. Faith is more important than science or reason. Global warming is a myth, not an inconvenient truth. We aren't accidents of evolution. And so on. It seems that kids who grow up with this kind of psychological discipline and unquestioned authority actually do turn out pretty well. They are home schooled. The film doesn't mention Assemblies of God, but speaking in tongues is shown, and it is quite harrowing. (I have witnessed it once when visiting the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, FL in 1998.) Indoctrination continues at the summer camp. Some of the prayer scenes look silly and coercive. One girl speaks up for the acting out in evangelical services; ordinary services, she says, are boring and lifeless; you need to Come Alive through the Lord with singing and praying and group mindset. The kids say they realize they are being trained to become warriors for Christ, but warriors in a good sense of the word. But there is acceptance of a higher, unquestioned authority above (Jesus Christ -- Him).

Evangelical denominations provide simple explanations of faith to answer difficult moral problems: how do you offer salvation to everyone and take care of everyone in a world that wants to offer individual freedom? Yet, such a question ought to become a matter for the mind. It can have a secular answer. There is nothing wrong with discussing the value of life in terms of family responsibility. They seem to be afraid to try.

There is a radio talk show host (Mike Papantonio) who debates Becky on the air, and questions the influence of the religious right on politics and particularly the Bush administration. The president is seen as a kind of inappropriate savior. But we knew all about this in the 1980s with the televangelists, and Reagan's pretense of going along with them.

There is a small film "Camp Out" about a Minnesota Bible camp ("Bay Lake Camp") for gay Christian youths, directed by Kirk Marcolina and Larry Grimaldi. It was screened at Reel Affirmations in Washington DC Oct 17. I was not able to make the screening but I will try to locate a DVD copy. COPA Plaintiff Nerve.com has a review discussion here. The July 12, 2007 issue of Washington DC gay newspaper Metro Weekly has an article by Sean Bugg, "Camp Out: Home Is Where the Camp Is," here.

The Logo Network has made the film available, both on Cable and DirectTV (in some cities) and on its website. You can view the film here. It is in ten "episodes" adding up to about 78 minutes. The movie closely follows a number of teens (ranging in age from 15 to about 20) at the camp. The material stays within the PG range. One counselor gives the story of how he finally was ordained as a Lutheran pastor even though openly gay. The campers put on talent shows, and have various discussions about faith. Early in the film, one of them asks, "what if I'm wrong." There is still a strong emphasis in finding truth in the Bible and in scripture rather than in figuring it out in an intellectual way. The film is shot 1.33 to 1, but has many clips (cropped vertically) that are 1.85 to 1.

We're All Angels (2008, Telekenetic / Showtime, dir. Robert Nunez, 87 min, sug. PG-13) Jason Warner and De Marco, a Christian "boy band" duet who happen to be lovers, tell their story. Blogger discussion.

For the Bible Tells Me So (2007, First Run Features, dir. Daniel G. Karsdale, 95 min) is a well-organized documentary about the Bible and homosexuality, and the way people use the Bible to justify otherwise secular prejudices. The Gephardt family, as welll as the life of Episcopal priest Gene Robinson, are covered. Blogger discussion.

A Jihad for Love (2008, First Run Features/ Halal, dir. Parvez Sharma) examines homosexuality and Islam, and it is more open than one would expect. Blogger.

With God on our Side: George W. Bush and the Rise of the Religious Right (2007, First Run Features (2004, First Run, dir. Calvin Skaggs, David Van Taylor, 101 min) The title of the film suggests that it deals mainly with the second president Bush, but actually it starts with the Carter administration. Even Billy Graham, back in the 70s, had said that religion and politics should be separate. But when Jimmy Carter seemed to be too "liberal" on issues like abortion and the equal rights amendment, evangelicals started to see the value of political activism, to the point that they had a major hand in the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan (Carter's failure to handle the Iran hostage crisis was a major factor).  By the early 1980s, the Moral Majority was clearly entrenched ("get them saved, get them baptized, get them registered to vote"), with James Robison, for example, talking about how men who sleep with other men, and women who rise in the workplace and have abortions were destroying the family for people who have them. The need for tax cuts just for "families with children" started to come into the debate. By 1988, Pat Robertson did shockingly well in the primaries.  

The second part of the film does indeed deal with the second President Bush as an "evangelical" who got a second chance, after his own drinking problems. Many people don't take Bush's religion seriously (even with his faith-based initiatives). The chad issue in the 2000 election is covered briefly, and the images of 9/11 are played.

The film does cover the scapegoating of gays and lesbians, and women who don't stay in the home. It's as if men, in order to raise families, need the reassurance that they won't have to compete with people who don't play by the same rules. Yes, when things are run that way, some people are better off, but others will take advantage of a system like this. The whole question comes down to psychological freedom:  Does someone who is "different" owe psychological and emotional loyalty to the family values that produced him and enabled his life? It seems like openness to accept and respond to the deeper needs of others and give in on one's own goals gets paired with the idea of being saved (by Grace) regardless of the external demands of others that can cause someone to fail according to his own view of life. The film does point out that people who are married with kids and who go to church have been more likely to vote Republican, and tend to view their degree of socialization as a moral duty that ought to become legally driven again.

Conversations with God (2006, Samuel Goldwyn / Fox Faith / Spiritual Cinema Circle, dir. Stephen Duetsch, 9 books by Neale Donald Walsch,108 min, PG) is a biography of Walsch (played by Henry Czerny), who broke his neck in a car accident, became penniless and homeless, and then "discovered God." His life starts over from the bottom up at a camp where he learns to collect recylclable aluminum cans for a subsistence living.  (Even the homeless community has its own form of extreme capitalism.)  He is asked, when he tries to use a regular public restroom, "Why can't you get a job? What's wrong with you."  Overcoming obstacles as a homeless person, he does get a weekend job on a radio talk show. The movie oscillates between the speaking and his life story. In the opening scene he is public-speaking and a man asks him why he is not a hypocrite, since he could not stay with one woman. Later he speaks, at a Unitarian church (I've spoken once at one in Minnesota) and he talks about kingdom economics (why don't we reward teachers, artists, even mothers?). He says that no one should give up on what he or she believes he or she was intended to do in life, regardless of the pressures of others. Toward the end of the movie he "gets published" and has book-signing parties.  Walsch's blog is here.

Camp (2003, IFC/MGM, dir. Toff Graff, 114 min, PG-13, music by Stephen Trask, Tom Weill ("Rent") is music director, a "comedy about drama") is a musical, somewhat echoing the lighthearted "High School Musical", but with somewhat darker overtones -- here with college-age kids in a summer arts camp ("Camp Ovation") where they do it all -- acting and dance. They bunk in reasonable quarters for the rural Catskills, and gradually deal with their sexual identities. Vlad Buamann (Daniel Letterle) arrives as the handsome straight boy, even carrying a football. He wants to become an actor to deal with his obsessive-compulsive disorder that makes him play out the numbers from "Rent" in his mind. Michael (Robin de Jesus) has a slight crush on him, but that is kept under control. The events at rehearsals and then at the performances become memorable, sometimes for funny reasons. A girl vomits while performing (I don't think I've ever seen that in a movie before, and the scene must have made drama students cringe), and has to be relieved by another girl who breaks cordials in her hand. A drag queen announces, "if the hair on my legs doesn't grow back, somebody's gettin' sued." Mildly homophobic director Bert Hanley (Don Dixon) scolds the kids for fag-hagging, and then throws up himself all over Vlad. Finally, Vlad, Michael and Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) come to terms with a night skinnydipping scene.  Andy Warhol had made a film by the same name in 1965. 

The deleted scenes include a mandatory softball game (unenclosed field), where the boys look a bit unathletic, to say the least, and where Michael is called a "pockmarked faggot". Michael jumps with joy in catching an underhand thrown ball (thrown like a "girl") but doesn't tag the baserunner. The observation that this is "Camp Homo" gets made, even though many of the characters are straight. In another deleted scene, Bert derides Michael as a "chorus boy."

The DVD also explains that the musical numbers were preformed by lip-synching. One of the most important songs is "Stand Up and Be Counted," as well as "How Shall I See You Through My Tears?"

 

Friends of God: A Road Trip with Alexandra Pelosi (2007, HBO, dir. Alexandra Pelosi, 45 min, PG, p-5,a-3,r-2). The filmmaker is the daughter of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and visits a number of evangelical megachurches, with conversations with Joel Osteen (TX) and Ted Haggard (Colorado Springs, CO), as well as many of the faithful, who brag about being in church on Saturday night. I once (Nov. 1998) walked in on a revival at the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, FL, and saw women falling down, slain in the spirit, when the minister touched them. Pensacola's gay bars, catering to sailors in a world of "don't ask don't tell", were only about three miles away. In the movie, a service in Houston attended by 65,000 was shown. This film was made before Ted Haggard's own fall when one of his tricks outed him, at the same time that the Mark Foley scandal was unfolding (much of that the result of just one blogger), with the end result that control of Congress would shift to the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi would wind up in her current position. 

 

The philosophy of the believers deserves comment. They need a system of right-and-wrong and religious "truth" delivered to them, very much along the minds of the fundamentalist mindset that Andrew Sullivan describes in his recent book The Conservative Soul. One woman describes her wanting to be a lawyer and a careerist, and suddenly finding herself married with ten children some years later, because of "God's plan." Their ideas seem to deny making one's own choices and taking responsibility for them, and especially find one's own truth, because that would put one in competition with others who believe differently and play by different rules.

 

Kibbutz (2006,JCC.IsraelBrd, dir. Racheli Schwartz, 53 min, NR but sug PG, in Hebrew with subtitles). In the 1970s it was common for New Age groups to suggest the hidden commune or ashram as a moral focal point and destination. There were rumors of such places like "Hidden Valley" in the Andes, where everyone conformed. In fact, Jewish settlers have built communes on the edges of the Holy Land since the 1930s, and of course the kibbutz became a symbol of invasion into Palestinian lands. The movie, however, deals with none of the international politics. (It shows clips timed in 2001 and 2003 but never mentions 9/11.)  Instead, the kibbutz is having to deal with the economic reality of a flat world, slowly closing down communal businesses (services for "members") like orchards and even laundries and laying off workers, as many younger people move to Tel Aviv, and gradually shed the communal living values that brought their parents to Israel.  Toward the end, an interesting female woodwind band performs. Shown at the Jewish Community Center in Washington Jan 29, 2007. 4:3 aspect ratio.

 

The Children's House (2006,JCC/IsraelBrd, dir. Tamir Feingold, 53 min, NR but sug PG-13, in Hebrew with subtitles) presents a more disturbing view of commune life in the kibbutz. The Children's House is a common area where the children stay, are taught, and even sleep at night, away from their parents. The movie showed the raising of a modern house, but the more interesting footage was from a house of the 1950s, some of it in black and white. The children were even expected so sleep in certain positions, four beds to a room. There are brief nude shower scenes, to convey the impression that children did not enjoy bodily modesty that we take for granted. There are plenty of discussions of the meaning of parenthood in this environment. Like the other film, this was shown at the JCC, and at least one member of the panel had been raised this way and did not feel that the lifestyle was a collective as the film made it look. 

 

Religulous (2008, LionsGate / Thousand Words, dir. Larry Charles, 101 min, R). Bill Maher interviews religious leaders and followers all over the world to make fun of the "certainty" of religion. He likes being a doubter. Blogger discussion.

 

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