“And on the eight day God created Summer Camp”. If you only believe in a seven day week, well, this tagline proves new comedy Camp Manna may not be for you.
Taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to Evangelical Christian subculture, Camp Manna is about Ian Fletcher, a scrawny ‘non-believer’ who gets shipped off to a Christian summer camp, where he’s forced to participate in a Biblically-themed Olympiad known as the God Games.
Kids dress up as David to defeat Goliath, race with faux-stone tablets to be the first Moses down the mountain, and play tug-o-war with their ‘temptation’ (the opposing team) to see who’s more spiritually fit.
All your favourite characters are there: the cool camp leader tallying new salvations in an ichthus on his arm, the chubby hot-dog-loving misfit, and the Bible-bashing teacher’s pet. There’s even a camp leader who questions his faith (gasp!), and a militant war veteran overseeing the games with far too much enthusiasm.
If you’ve spent any length of time in Christian youth groups, Camp Manna will feel too true, and you’ll thank the filmmakers for finally ‘telling your story’. It may have a hyper-Americanised tone at times, but, for lovers of iconic camp movies like Heavyweights, Meatballs, or The Parent Trap that is just fine.
Satire With a Soul
Inspired by their niche upbringing, Co-Directors Eric Scott Johnson and Eric Machiela call Camp Manna “satire with a soul”.
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“We loved the [Evangelical] world we were raised in,” the pair said. “We loved the values it instilled in us. But we were also witness to the hilarity of a subculture which often misrepresented its own messages of forgiveness tolerance, and love.”
The character played by of producer and actor Evan Koons (Camp Leader Bradley Sommers), points to some of that hypocrisy.
“My cabin is full of all the underdog, rag-tag, ‘odd man out’ nobodies, that no-one in the other cabins wants,” said Evan. “It’s a [scenario] that reminds us how tribal and ‘cliquey’ we can be, and how maybe we shouldn’t be… the greatest thing we can learn is [to have] unity, and community, and friendship with all people [because they’re] created in the image of God.”
Between the laughs, Camp Manna touches on some of the biggest questions of faith: is it real or a bit cuckoo? Do genealogies matter? Does doing the old ‘flick and pick’ with my Bible count as ‘God talking to me’?
In answering some of those questions, the directors felt Camp Manna gave them the opportunity to say, ‘Yes faith is real, but it’s also funny’.
“We loved the evangelical world we were raised in…but we were also witness to the hilarity of a subculture.”
“We had the opportunity to unpack [our upbringing] and what surfaced was a sense of the freedom,” the two said. “Freedom to be honest without fear or judgement. Freedom to call out absurdities no one dared to find funny. Freedom to embrace both the beauty and the mess. It was incredibly cathartic.”
In responding to his experience of the movie, writer and theologian Peter Rollins also thought Camp Manna could be quite powerful.
“Comedy for me is the moral voice of today,” said Rollins. “A good comedian brings up the stuff that nobody wants to talk about. They bring the truth that’s in us up to the light of day, and then we laugh about it and are freed from it.”
Camp Manna is available on all digital platforms from March 20. For more information see CampMannaTheMovie.com.au.