So I had Jesus Camp on my Netflix queue. A movie showed up yesterday. (Actually, two did, because Perfume: The Story of a Murderer came at the same time.) The sleeve said Jesus Camp, and the disc said Jesus Camp, but when I put it in the player to watch it, I discover, to my shock and horror, that it is a snuff film!
Well, long slow, brutal and graphic depictions of mass child abuse and the utter annihilation of children's minds are as damn close to a snuff film as I'm going to get from Netflix. Hopefully. It might not quite be murder, but it is surely a depiction of death.
My favorite moment happened very near the beginning, when Pentecostal Youth Minister asks an audience of very young children and their parents, "who here believes that God can do anything?"
Cut to medium shot of mother and two young children. Mother grabs Children's arms and raises Children's hands for them. Which is exactly what you would expect. Because Evangelical Christianity is not about faith or hope or love or freely accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. It's about indoctrination and control.
Documentaries are not my oversized mug of sweet, sweet bergamotty Earl Gray. The genre is automatically deceitful. The label "documentary" attempts to place the veneer of objectivity on a production that is, essentially, inescapably, propaganda. The genre, as it exists today, was created by the Soviets expressly as a technique for agit-prop. See, e.g., Человек с киноаппаратом (Дзига Вертов 1929); Sergei Eisenstein, A Dialectic Approach to Film Form, in Film Form (1929). By attaching the term "documentary" to a production, the producer is asserting that the film represents an accurate document, without artistic comment, of reality. But this is never the case. The naturalist photographer still takes photographs according to his artistic principles, which he uses to exclude or include content. Even the nihilist photographer makes conscious decisions about his "art." It is, I suggest, impossible to "document" reality in any way without making some kind of metaphysical value judgment about what is important to document and what is not. Documentarists' and Goddard's assertions of a quest for "truth in film" notwithstanding.
This isn't to say that a film (or other piece of art) cannot depict truth. I only mean that documentary film purports to present the truth of some arena of human affairs without the necessary value judgments involved in arriving at that truth. "Draw your own conclusions from the raw facts we present" is a perfect lie, because no one, not even the most accomplished and well-studied documentarist, can evade the responsibility of valuation.
So I come to the movie pretty biased against it. And indeed the filmmakers assert that they are non-judgmental. It is quite clear, though, that they are not. It is easy to discern their political message (and really, all documentary is political - even March of the Penguins, which purports to be a nature piece, ultimately implicates the politics of global warming), which is that fundamentalist, evangelical Christians are ideologically similar to Islamic terrorists. This is in fact true, but relying the facts presented by a documentary (which facts have already been filtered by the documentarist's lens) in order to make that judgment is not an entirely objective method. Some documentarists recognize this, and bank on it. Michael Moore is an excellent example of a documentarist who recognizes the deceit, and relies on the average viewer to be less vigilant about the quality of the facts presented. Such documentarists can very effectively manipulate those who are intellectually relaxed (a condition the word "documentary" helps to induce) in order to lead viewers to the desired final judgment. This is the essence of documentary, which echoes right back to its Soviet agit-prop origins.
The film would have been of more interest to me had they spent more time on the effects of Evangelical indoctrination on the children. Sick as it is, I would have preferred to watch a film with more "child abuse" than was actually depicted. I would have had slightly more interest in a film that was trying to lead viewers to the conclusion that parental behavior of this sort constitutes child abuse, at least in an abstract moral sense. (Which is to say, I doubt whether the case can be effectively made that it is child abuse in a legalsense. Further investigation into the hotly debated area of children's rights is required.)
I did not dislike the film in the way I dislike Michael Moore's documentaries. But as a typical disingenuous attempt to withhold judgment, it can not possibly earn a higher rating than: