On Fire at Jesus Camp
The children who go to Becky Fischer's Kids on Fire summer camp may be too young to vote, but they're hardly politically unaware. In addition to the usual praise and worship at their Pentecostal services, the children offer prayers for President George W. Bush—by actually laying hands on a life-size cardboard cut-out—and burst into tears while asking God to fill the U.S. Supreme Court with "righteous judges."
Jesus Camp, a new documentary about Fischer's camp, opens this week in several U.S. cities, and will expand in the weeks ahead. The film made news last month when Magnolia Pictures acquired distribution rights to the film and tried to have it yanked at the last minute from Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival; the distributor said it wanted conservative evangelicals to see the film, and did not want the film to be tainted in their eyes by association with a liberal like Moore.
Similarly, filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady—whose previous film, the award-winning The Boys of Baraka, concerned inner-city kids from Baltimore who attend a school in Africa—say they say they have tried to be as objective as possible with Jesus Camp, and to let the campers and the film's other characters speak for themselves. These include National Association of Evangelicals president Ted Haggard and liberal Christian talk-show host Mike Papantonio; Fischer herself has already endorsed the film.
The filmmakers spoke to Christianity Today Movies from their office in New York City.
You seem to have a thing for movies about precocious kids.
Ewing: Kids are great subjects, because they're honest and they're extremely candid, and usually they are not as self-conscious when it comes to the camera. It's not just that we want to make films about children, by any means, but it's wonderful to have children as subjects in films, for that reason.
Were you initially looking to make another movie about kids, or were you looking more for a political subject, and the kids camp just happened to be a way to get into that?
Grady: Actually, we were looking for a film that focused on children and faith, and we were inspired by Devon Brown, who was in The Boys of Baraka. Neither of us had ever met a child that was so devoted and focused on his church, and it just made us think, Are there other kids out there like this? So initially, we weren't looking for a film that focused on even the evangelical movement in general; we were looking for a film that would focus on children and faith in a general way. But when we found Becky Fischer's camp, the film took a different turn.
Ewing: And even after we found the camp, the events that transpired in the country while we were shooting—namely the nomination and confirmation of two different Supreme Court justices—that really was an event that the people in our film and the evangelical community at large were really chattering about. To ignore the political seemed almost irresponsible as filmmakers, and so the film definitely started to take a much more political turn when the people in our film brought the political into the religious in the churches. So that just sort of naturally occurred.
How did you find Becky Fischer?
Grady: We just lucked out, really. We were looking for some sort of place where children that were seeking a more deep faith would go, such as a camp or a school, and basically stumbled upon her website and found it fascinating. Heidi reached out to her, and we went and met her and interviewed her and filmed her working with the kids in her community, and we thought we had a movie.