Becky Fischer isn’t shopping for gowns or booking a stylist.
Instead, the Bismarck woman – whose ministry was the subject of the Oscar-nominated film “Jesus Camp” – has disconnected her phone and is waiting for another onslaught of hate mail.
The film, nominated Tuesday for a best documentary Academy Award, focused on the summertime Christian prayer camp Fischer runs for children. Its release last fall prompted wildly different reactions, from glowing praise to threats of personal injury. Some of the film’s most vocal detractors accused Fischer of “brainwashing” children, and others swore they would burn down her church.
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“Honestly, this is a little bittersweet in this particular case because of so much of the negativity,” Fischer said. “I’m very proud of the (directors), I’m very happy for them. We were involved in a quality production. But at the same time, it makes me a little nervous because things had finally started calming down around here with all the negative feedback. I don’t know if this will stir things up again.”
Filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady shot “Jesus Camp” in 2005, and used footage from Fischer’s Kids on Fire summer prayer camp in Devils Lake. Fischer said the directors made a good documentary, but probably focused too much on what she called political issues.
During the filming, the directors told Fischer that the political tone of the film arose when the children were being taught to pray about issues such as abortion and for President Bush. Fischer said those were just some of the issues the kids at camp prayed for, and certainly weren’t the focus.
“It made it sound like that was our whole agenda, like all we’re about is political,” Fischer said. “That’s only a fraction of what we did.”
The camp in Devils Lake, which is owned by the Assemblies of God and rented out to various organizations, was vandalized after the release of “Jesus Camp.”A few parents pulled their children out of Fischer’s ministry.
“We’ve had a lot of threats from people around the country. I got threats and (the filmmakers) were threatened,” Fischer said. “People said they were going to burn our church down, or things like ‘If I could get close enough to you, I’d spit on you.’ It’s one thing if they’re in New York, but it’s another if they’re living down the road and they say that. I have my people to watch out for, the facility to watch out for, the children to watch out for.”
So Fischer closed down shop in Devils Lake. She has since begun to offer a weekly ministry for kids in Mandan. Between 50 and 70 kids show up each Wednesday, she said.
“We actually were not affected as much as I was concerned we would be,”Fischer said. “Probably the majority of the parents who sent their kids were not aware of what was going on in the ‘Jesus Camp’ thing, or had seen so many positive changes in their children that it didn’t matter.”
The film is nominated with four other documentaries: “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore’s film on the perils of global warming; “Deliver Us From Evil,” about the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church; “Iraq in Fragments,” about the Sunni-Shiite conflict in that country; and “My Country, My Country,” about the months leading up to the January 2005 elections in Iraq.
Along with the Oscar nod, “Jesus Camp” also was released Tuesday on DVD.
“We had two copies delivered, and we had two people waiting for them,” Holly Hughart, manager at Bismarck’s Hollywood Video, said.
At Fischer’s request, the film was not released to Bismarck theaters. She hopes the nomination will give it more credibility within the Christian community, so more of them will see it.
“Under different circumstances I would definitely be more excited, but I don’t know what the reaction of the nation is going to be,”Fischer said. “… Up until now (the movie) has been under the ownership of the, if Ican use this phrase, left-wing media – people with no understanding of the context they’re viewing it in. The real message of the film is not what the media makes it out to be, not all that political propaganda. The real message is the powerhouse of our kids in the Christian realm and what they’re capable of.”
As for heading out to Hollywood, Fischer said no thanks. Ewing and Grady – who were unavailable Tuesday for comment – asked if she’d like to attend as their guest, but she passed.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable out there. Frankly, I wouldn’t even know what to do at their parties,”Fischer said. “I just want the girls to go out there and have a good time, and not have to be worried about me getting offended.”