September 1 2007

Jesus Camp

Jesus CampIt’s Labor day weekend again, and as with last year, I’m burning through the DVDs. Due to writing though, I won’t hit last years total of 18, but I still will get a good number knocked out.

First up, Jesus Camp, the controversial documentary that was nominated for an Academy Award last year.

Why was it nominated?  Honestly, this is one of the most slap-dash docs I think I’ve ever watched.

The premise is seemingly simple: Follow a group of Christian children to their Fundamentalist summer camp, where they will learn how to become soldiers for the Lord.   Not gun carrying soldiers mind you, though the comparison is made, but just children that will speak the word of the Lord.

Fine, it sounds interesting, I was ready to go, but alas, this movie is so scattered, you don’t feel like you truly learn anything.  Why these particular kids?  Why this particular camp?  Why do you keep showing a talk radio host who isn’t even talking about the camp, but fundamentalism in general?  Why is the last third of the movie months later with no explanation of why we jumped forward?  Why does Levi (the mullet-sporting 11 year old wanna be preacher) suddenly in Colorado going to Ted Haggard’s church service, and in the very next scene he’s in Washington D.C. for a protest?

For a documentary,  it’s just too scattershot. For instance, when the kids are all being introduced at the beginning, we spend sometime getting to know Tory, a 10 year old girl who feels you should dance for the lord, but not the flesh, and sometimes she makes the mistake.  Okay, fine… why did we meet her?  The movie focuses almost entirely on Levi, and somewhat on Rachael, Tory never really factors in, so why did we waste the time meeting her?

I think this is a case of the filmmakers had too much to say, and no clue how to string it together into a cohesive narrative.  Docs do follow different rules than a standard film, I get that, but it should still feel like each scene is part of the same story, and 2 or 3 different ones.

3 out of 5 stars only because I liked the base subject matter.

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  • Roy

    18 DVDs in one year? Is that all? I watch more movies in an average week!

  • No, 18 in one five day period. Last Labor Day weekend.

  • I’m guessing that it got noticed by a lot of people, and likely a lot of those who could vote did so on the power of the topic–and the trailer–without seeing the actual movie. The trailer certainly has a lot of shock value, as do the excerpts from the movie that I saw. Betcha anything it wouldn’t have gotten the nomination had more of the voters seen it…

  • Luis – You’re probably right. To vote on the final ballot, I know you have to actually see the films in an Academy approved screening and get them all marked off as having seen them. That’s probably why it did get nominated was the strength of the trailer, but the final product is a meandering mess.