Produced & Directed by
James Ault & Michael Camerini
A gripping inside view of a
fundamentalist Baptist church
and its Christian school
Blue Ribbon, American Film Festival Cine Golden Eagle
“Intelligent, impartial . . . the best documentary about the Moral Majority yet made. An indispensable resource for anyone honestly interested in understanding the appeal and inner workings of Christian fundamentalists.” Joe Gelmis, Newsday
“A deeply sensitive and finely crafted film . . . helps the viewer grasp how their faith actually works on a day-to-day basis.” Harvey Cox, Harvard Divinity School
“Everyone is Born Again is real. No one appears as a stereotype. . . It gives a remarkably candid view.” John Corry, New York Times
“The camera is always in the right place and always respectful of the people involved . . . An example of fine storytelling in documentary form.” George Stoney, Professor of Film, NYU
“An engrossing film which marries social scientific insight to artistic vision . . . Will smash forever any simple notion of what being `born again’ is about.” Kristin Luker, University of California–Berkeley
Original version (87:00) broadcast as a national
primetime special on PBS in 1987. 58:00 version for
European television included on the same DVD.
An award-winning companion book to Born Again
giving context, interpretation and a fuller account
of the stories & characters who appear.
SPIRIT & FLESH
Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church
(Alfred Knopf 2004)
“One of the five best nonfiction books of the year!”
Christian Science Monitor
“The best single-volume explanation of why American
fundamentalist Christianity thrives among certain
people. . . and will not die out.”
The Washington Post
As soon as I first walked through the doors of the Shawmut River Baptist Church I knew it would make a great film. But I had never made a film. I was a sociologist studying the growing movement of social conservatives that would go on to transform American politics beyond recognition, much to the surprise of the American intelligentsia. I was spending time with right-to-lifers, parents campaigning against sex education and home-schoolers, and had some insights that were helping me understand them better. But when I first visited Shawmut River, I felt that, as a community enterprise, it was here you could see the social world in which New Right enthusiasms made sense to its supporters–even why, for example, their passion for pro-life went hand-in-hand with celebrating military service.
Though never having made a film before, a close friend in Sociology at Brandeis, Nancy Jay, knew John Marshall, one of the pioneers of cinéma vérité documentary filmmaking–that is where the story is told not by a narrator, but through scenes of real-life and stories told to camera by subjects themselves. This is the kind of film I wanted to make and John introduced me to leading practitioners and helped get funding from NEH. I ended up recruiting Michael Camerini to the project, whose intimate portrayal of life in an extended family in India impressed me as the kind of approach this film needed.
Neither was I interested in religion at the time. However, two close colleagues at Brandeis, Karen Fields and Nancy Jay herself were brilliant students of religion. They advised that the best way to help outsiders understand someone’s beliefs would be to film subjects struggling with ordinary human problems anyone could identify with, and then see how they wrestled with them in terms of their beliefs. I fully agreed and set out to film the personal dramas that were always unfolding at Shawmut River. One of those was the story of Ted, whose younger brother, Ron, head of one of the church’s largest families, was trying to get him saved. Ted was certainly facing struggles: he got drunk regularly and was facing the impending breakup of his second marriage. Ron kept urging him to come to church, organized prayer for him, and would from time to time go to Ted’s home for “visitation.” One winter evening Ron took their nephew along to go witness to Ted, and we arranged, having prepared the groundwork, to film it. Here’s a piece of what transpired that night.
What would happen to Ted? And would anything happen in the next couple of months of our filming? Ted’s story, along several others we wove together, including that of a broken marriage the pastor was trying to restore, made Born Again, as one reviewer put it, “like a soap opera, but real, and set in a fundamentalist Baptist church.” Its matter-of-fact portrayal of life in a Jerry-Falwell inspired “Moral Majority” church, the most hardline conservatives leading the New Right at the time, made it a film that people as far apart politically as Norman Lear, founder of People for the American Way, and Falwell himself both liked. (Cont’d, p.2)