An Interview with Heidi Ewing, Co-Director of “Jesus Camp”
BY KEVIN CARR
Heidi Ewing is the co-director of the controversial new film “Jesus Camp.” Ewing talks about working with co-director Rachel Grady, finding their subjects and keeping objective in the process. Excepts from the interview follow.
Hear the entire interview…
7M: WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS PROJECT?
Our last film, The Boys of Baraka, is about a group of inner city kids from Baltimore who leave home and go to school in Africa, and it was out last year. One of the kids focused on was a 12-year old African American black Baptist preacher. And he was 12, and he was amazing – fire and brimstone. He was really into his church and really into prayer, and he was 12. And his sister who was raised in the same home didn’t feel that was. It was always something of interest to us to see a child with that kind of devotion. That was our initial inspiration, looking to do a film about kids who are really into their faith.
Once we found Becky Fischer and her ministry and then her camp, and the children who attend her camp and their families, I think it became a richer, more complicated movie that looked at how people raise their children with this very conservative world view and became a lot about the culture wars in this country.
7M: BEFORE DOING THIS, WHAT WERE YOUR PERCEPTION OF EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS?
Frankly, Rachel and I, neither of us grew up knowing a lot of born-again Christians, and so it wasn’t that we had any history with the Evangelical world. Before we started, we shared the idea that the Evangelical experience was out there and unrelated to us and not really relevant to our lives. It was maybe a small swatch of America. We learned while making this film that’s quite the contrary. There are millions and millions of born-again Christians – between 80 and 100 million – and there’s a very pervasive conservative worldview that comes along with much of this population, and perhaps that worldview is close to the majority.
7M: WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES?
We had about 300 hours of footage. It was difficult because there was a lot of stories we could tell, and we had material to tell many different stories. Pentecostals and Charismatic have a very interesting worship style – a lot of laying of hands and attempts to heal the sick. The kids are being taught to prophesize. There’s lots of kind of really interesting theological elements to the religion, and we have some of that in the movie. But we really decided to streamline the film and have the camp anchor the movie.
It was very difficult. The edit was ten months. I think it was the hardest thing that Rachel and I have ever worked on. Me personally, there’s never been a harder film or documentary or television production I’ve ever been involved in in my life. It was tough. You were dealing with issues of politics and religion, and you’re trying to reserve judgement and approach the material the fairest way you can.
7M: WAS IT HARD TO STAY OBJECTIVE?
It got easier to stay objective. How long can you be judgmental and freaked out and confused? All of those emotions come in the beginning of something. Once you spend a lot of time with people and go back and forth many, many months and get to know the families and the players. And you realize that you have certain things in common with them. The gray area starts to take over when you make a documentary film.
7M: DID THE SUBJECTS LIKE THE FILM?
Everyone in the film is supporting the film, except Ted Haggard, who’s the mega-church pastor in the end. He hates the movie. He’s telling his parishioners not to see it. He doesn’t like how he looks in the movie and he thinks we have an agenda. He has the most to lose in this film because he’s a political person. But we shot him the way we shot everyone else. That’s how he was on camera. That’s how he acted the entire time we shot him. He was speaking to the camera the entire time.
It’s too bad he’s telling his parishioners to avoid it, like it will hurt them or something, but most people who see the film think it’s a fair representation?
7M: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CONTROVERSY FROM PEOPLE WHO’VE SEEN IT?
There’s less controversy from people who’ve seen it, I think. Even if people see it and they’re like, I’m scared and I don’t like this group, they do say it was so provocative and food for thought. It’s harder for people to come out and lambaste and write hate mail. Once they’ve seen it, those feelings are dissipated and it becomes more of a conversation you have with your friends. I think that people who’ve seen the trailer are the ones who are the most vocal about it.
7M: WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO INCLUDE MIKE PAPANTONIO?
We brought that element very late into the movie. We were about eight months into the edit. The film had a flatness to it. There’s so much at stake, but you couldn’t feel any stake in the movie, and it didn’t bring in any other perspective. Some people just can’t handle the movie because they’re no one who’s objecting at all. We felt like the film needed it. It really needed another voice, and we wanted that voice to be a Christian because we wanted someone who could quote scripture and who goes to church and who has no problem with Christians at all. We thought that was important that the voice of dissent represent Christians who are not like this.
When Becky and he have their confrontation, it justifies his role in the movie. Because finally these two people get a chance to hash it out a bit.
7M: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE SCORE THAT YOU DID?
That was our second score. We re-scored the movie this summer. We went out of pocket and hired new composers because we thought it was too dark. And we came up with a score that we thought was more emotional and more balanced, but I have a feeling you didn’t find it that way.
7M: IT SEEMED LIKE A STANDARD DOCUEMTNARY SCORE, BUT THE EARLY SCENES WERE VERY DARK AND BROODING.
I’ve never had so much scrutiny on a score in any project I’ve worked on. I think people are definitely listening very, very hard because they’re looking for our point of view. So I think it’s come under way more scrutiny. We were trying to reflect musically how the moment felt or how the kids were feeling. There’s chaos that reigns when kids are speaking in tongues, and we wanted to support that feeling, but we tried to do our best to do a score that wasn’t totally judgmental, but people still come up and say they had problems with the score.