When Michael Moore calls a documentary about evangelical Christians scary, red-state America yawns. It's no surprise that the Fahrenheit 9/11 film director's Michigan film festival voted Jesus Camp (with limited multiplex showings in select cities) its "scariest movie," given that Moore has bashed everything else remotely tied to George Bush's America. What's startling is that moviegoers, including the evangelicals the film purports to portray, may agree with him. If Jesus Camp doesn't scare thinking Christians, it will at least sadden them.
Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka) chose a narrow slice of Christian fundamentalism-a Midwest pastor named Becky Fischer and her North Dakota summer camp, "Kids on Fire"-as emblems of Christian revival and the overplayed "Take Back America for Christ!" movement.
Under Fischer's supervision, young children are goaded into speaking in tongues, some falling to the floor in agonies and ecstasies, and nearly all are moved to tearful hysterics. They line up to take hammers from camp directors and one by one smash coffee mugs inscribed with the word "government." And at one session they lay hands on a cardboard cutout of the president.
Oddly enough, Jesus Camp is rated PG-13 "for some discussions of mature subject matter." Its main characters are a mullet-wearing 12-year-old named Levi, who actually becomes a preacher during the course of the 84-minute documentary; 10-year-old Tory, bothered by a mom who calls her to lunch when she'd rather be working on dance routines set to Christian music; and 6-year-old Rachael, who is tongue-tied only when she goes to evangelize a group of older men in a park and discovers that they already believe in Jesus.
The stock in trade for Jesus Camp is an army of God who listens to Carmen, votes Republican, and lives off talk radio and drive-thrus. These foot soldiers buy American along undivided highways where no one's yet heard of buried cable. For directors who say their hope is to start a conversation between red and blue America, this is a purple bruise of a way to begin.