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Notes from the back row

God protect me from your followers…



“Isn’t it nice that we’re all so different.”

My friend’s grandmother used to say that whenever she’d hear us complaining about somebody. As an adult I’ve sort of adopted it as a mantra of open mindedness and tolerance. It is nice that we’re all so different. Except that some of us are so different, it’s starting to kinda scare the shit out of me.

Jesus Camp , Oscar nominated and now on DVD, takes you into the world of American Christian Evangelist Becky Fisher and the “Kids On Fire” summer camp she started to teach children as young as 6 “How to take back America to Christ,” how to become “Jesus’s soldiers,” how to hate gays and stop abortion, why religion and politics need to be linked, and how to dance, in warpaint, around a cardboard cutout of George W Bush.

This is a woman who says things like, “George W. Bush has brought real credibility to the Christian Faith.” Or how about, “Harry Potter is an enemy of god and in the old Testament would have been put to death.” These people are way, way out there.

Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady focus much of the film on a few of the children in the camp, all of whom seem very well spoken and mature for their age. Levi (11), who wants to be a pastor (and also has the sickest rat tail haircut I’ve ever seen) is so personable and adult-like, you almost forget he can speak in tongues, weeps openly at sermons, and has been homeschooled into believing that evolution and global warming don’t exist.

Fisher uses all sorts of child-specific brainwashing techniques (many different toys in her sermon or, letting the kids use a hammer to smash coffee cups with “sinful ideas” written on them) and is very concerned that Muslims are teaching their children to be soldiers while America is falling behind.

Although Ewing and Grady’s Jesus Camp is a tad biased in its edits and soundtracks, for the most part it’s solid documentation of people determined to fuse the church and the state. While it’s never explained why these kooks are so screwed up, at least now we know where the first Christian suicide bombers are going to come from.

Let’s shift gears. Pan’s Labyrinth , opening this Friday, is a fairy tale but it definitely ain’t lighthearted kiddie fare. Director Guillermo del Toro ( Hellboy) takes a classic fairy tale set-up — young girl, good mother, evil stepfather — and transposes it into a bleak, remote compound during the Spanish civil war. The girl, Ophelia, creates her own fantasy world to combat the hard, fascist military world of her ruthless and violent stepfather, who cares only about his unborn child that Ophelia’s mother carries.

The film is dark, sensual, and visually amazing. Del Toro works themes of duality into the tightly woven script of shifting mazes, organic monsters, and double-identity rebel spies. Ophelia, the only character with real free will, cannot save her mother or country but, through the fairy world, she can save herself. This is a brooding, heavy flick with enough violence to scare little kids, exactly how a fairy tale should be.

My Spanish-speaking friend Pilar tells me the subtitles are a bit weak and Pan’s Labyrinth is much more poetic in it’s native tongue, but check it out anyhow — it’s different, and that’s always nice, isn’t it?

AT VILLAGE 8 Feb. 2-8: Pan’s Labyrinth; Because I Said So; Smoking Aces; Epic Movie; Dreamgirls; Casino Royale; Queen; Catch and Release; Blood Diamond; Departed.

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