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Jesus Camp follows a group of evangelical Christian children to Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where they pray, preach, speak in tongues, and learn to “take back the country for Christ
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An attendee of Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp looks skyward for guidance.
Jesus Camp follows a group of evangelical Christian children to Becky Fischer’s “Kids on Fire” camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, where they pray, preach, speak in tongues, and learn to “take back the country for Christ.” The film, which features no narration and minimal music, has garnered praise for its “even-handedness” and spurred diverse reactions. Rachel Grady, one of the directors of Jesus Camp, spoke to the Current by phone.

What was your experience with Christianity before the film?
You know, it’s interesting. I’m not a Christian. I was raised Jewish. And, of course, I know a lot of Christians, and had been to church before, but I had never spent time with Pentecostals before, so that was new to me. But it’s interesting, now that I’ve made the film, its one of those things that I see the language and the iconography, and I notice it so much more; it’s just it’s very prevalent in our society. I think 90 percent of Americans describe themselves as Christians. And after making this movie, I do recognize that in a way that I guess hadn’t fully occurred to me.

What was it like to approach this really tightly knit, really sort of passionate community, and what was the filming process like? Was there any tension? Did they try to convert you or anything?
No, they, you know, they were very respectful. I think that they very much … recognized that we were there for a specific reason; we weren’t there necessarily to … um, you know, we were doing our job. And they were very respectful of that. Of course, you know, it did come up over the year, not necessarily from the people that we were focusing on, but people in their churches, or at different events, that people would, you know, ask when we got saved, and we had to explain that it hadn’t happened yet. Of course we had those conversations. Evangelizing is part of the mandate, you know? But it wasn’t a problem with the people we were spending all the time with. And you know, people seem so surprised that there was no resistance, but if you think about it, from their point of view, they have absolutely nothing to hide, and they’re very proud of what they’re doing, and they wish other people would do it.

What is that like? Do you develop a sort of peripheral sympathy for that? Do you feel like you understand that?
Well, you know … what’s been really interesting, is watching what this film does to very liberal audiences. It really puts them on the spot, because it is a test of all the ideology that they have and stand behind. It’s really testing, I think, pluralism. It’s much more subtle for Heidi and I, and much more complex, of course, because it’s not an 87-minute experience, it’s a, like, million-hour experience. But, you know, we had all the colors of the rainbow as far as it making us sort of look at our own selves and our own beliefs and figure out where we stood on a lot of things and how we felt about other people’s right to live however they want.

Religion, obviously, can be tough to articulate, even for an adult. For the kids, I mean, they’re obviously very passionate — do you get the sense that most of them understand what they’re saying, or do you think that they are sort of repeating what they’ve heard — or do you think it’s simpler for them because it’s more black-and-white?
You know, I think that there is an element of simplicity to the way they see it. `To them`, the devil is a being. They know what he looks like …

Really?
Yeah. They described to me what he looks like.

What did they say?
You know. Kind of like the cartoon.

Oh, OK.
But, you know, everything is so black-and-white for them. And they sleep real good at night. All of ’em.

Do you get the feeling that these kids are all gonna stick with it, or …?
I have no idea. There is no way to tell. There’s no way to tell — I mean, they seem absolutely dedicated and sincere now, but, of course, it’s pre-puberty … I mean, it’s, the jury’s totally out, and Heidi and I would love to do a follow-up film.

I was going to say … I guess you probably get asked that a lot. Like 10, 20 years or something …
Or even, I mean, five years. You know?

Have you gotten any feedback from the actual subjects?
Of course, yeah. They’ve all seen the film, and they like it, a lot.

So it’s sort of like, your reaction depends very much …
Well, you know, our distributor calls it a Rorschach test of, whatever your position is, whatever your worldview is, is the experience you have watching this movie. And that seems to be fairly accurate.

To what extent do you feel that the film is political, to what extent is it about religion, and then, to what extent is it just about people?
You know, that is the whole thing. It’s so, there is no divide on any of those things. Their lifestyle is their personality is their politics is their religion. So, for me, the lifestyle that these people led, the camp might as well work as a metaphor, more than anything. I mean, it’s just part of the whole package.

When you guys started out, what you intended and what you expected, how does that relate to what you ended up with?
From start to finish, the story definitely evolved and changed, and, you know, we weren’t necessarily looking for a film that explored the political intertwinings in faith. We weren’t. But it became so obvious to us that we couldn’t ignore it, even if we wanted to. l

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