2006 documentary ‘Jesus Camp’ wasn’t really about camp

The 2006 documentary Jesus Camp suggested in its title that it was a documentary about a Christian camp, but the film spent almost as much time in a radio studio as it did at the actual camp it purported to be about.

That anyone would list the film on those dime a dozen “best summer camp movies” click-bait lists popular this time of year is laughable.

The 87-minute films spends less than a half hour at Lakewood Park Bible Camp in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, which Kids on Fire School of Ministry rented for the Pentecostal summer camp run by Becky Fischer. Of those 25 minutes, all but six take place in the camp’s chapel during church services.

When it was released, the film that wasn’t really set at a summer camp and had more to do with George W. Bush and abortion than it did Jesus caused quite a stir and gave liberal audiences plenty of ammunition to throw at conservatives.

The most controversial scene of kids praying to a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush was shot at a children’s prayer conference in Kansas City prior to camp, but many of the scenes of Fischer preaching (indoctrinating was a word used frequently in reviews) and kids getting whipped up into a spiritual frenzy were shot in the camp’s chapel. Of course, you only know it’s a camp chapel and not a church because you see the camp sign and a quick cut of the cabins where the kids stay (the chapel has since been renovated and looks even less like a building you’d see at a camp).

Fischer ended up closing down Kids on Fire in light of the negative response from the movie and the camp reportedly asked her not to return because of $1,500 in vandalism done to the camp after the film’s release. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, but lost to Al Gore’s slideshow movie An Inconvenient Truth. Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady went on to shoot a documentary about a crisis pregnancy center and abortion clinic in 2010 (12th & Delaware) and the city of Detroit in 2012 (Detropia).

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Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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