It can be a fine line between the funny and the offensive on the big screen, particularly when it comes to depicting religious groups. But US actor, writer, producer and all round funny man Evan Koons reckons the creators of film Camp Manna – a humourous take on Christian camps in the US - have managed to walk it.

“For one, I think everybody in the movie [the characters]...really want what’s good with the exception of – but I don’t want to give too much away," says Koons, who plays Bradley Sommers, a rather eager and stressed out camp counsellor. "But…they’re good people and the characters want what’s best...”

Koons also believes the film works because the comedy is “not that far off from the reality”, adding that there’s likely to be somebody who watches it who will say ‘Yeah, we totally had ‘Jesus Putt-Putt’ in our Christian camp’.”

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Evan Koons plays camp counsellor Bradley Sommers and Luke Klein plays 15-year-old Ian Fletcher in Camp Manna.

The 39-year-old, who went viral on the internet with his video, Church Appropriate Dance Moves, believes the movie‘s storyline also hits on some “key truths” about who God is.

“Namely God is a God who wants us to be in communion and a God who desires to befriend us…” Koons says. “And that’s what the movie’s about. And there’s bits that are redemptive, there’s a lot of redemption stuff in there…"

“The film for those directors was very much a love letter to their upbringing. And I thought, like, what a great opportunity to be involved in a project that cares about…all the audiences they want this movie to go to but especially the one that they are making fun of.”

- Evan Koons, speaking about the vision for Camp Manna.

Koons says he “had a blast” making the film which tells the story of 15-year-old orphan and non-believer Ian Fletcher (played by Luke Klein in his first role in a feature film), who's packed off by his aunt and uncle to a Christian camp to make friends and ends up taking part in a Biblically-themed - and rather insane - sports contest called the ‘God Games’.

Koons' own involvement with the film, which also stars Gary Busey as the no-nonsense camp boss Jack “Cujo” Parish, came out of the long-term relationship he’s had with its co-directors and writers Eric Scott Johnson and Eric Machiela. They've worked together on numerous commercial and creative projects over the past 15 years including a seven part series for churches, For the Light of the World: Letters to the Exiles, which explores the issue of salvation. 

Koons initially joined the project as a producer and it was only after the directors then asked him to read for the part of Bradley, that, although initially reluctant, he agreed to do so. That initial reluctance aside, he says what attracted him to the part was that a lot of the experiences they were exploring in the film he felt “needed to be told”.

“And [they] were funny and not that far off from reality in terms of growing up in a Christian church and a Christian camp culture…” he says, adding that one of the strengths of the film was that the comedy isn't "mean".

“The film for those directors was very much a love letter to their upbringing. And I thought, like, what a great opportunity to be involved in a project that cares about…all the audiences they want this movie to go to but especially the one that they are making fun of.”

Koons describes Bradley, the character he plays, as “ridiculously bonkers”.

“[He] was the guy you didn’t want to be but you ended up becoming anyway because you wanted to be the super awesome youth leader…” he says, adding that, in some senses, he was the youth leader who was “trying way too hard…to bring kids into the fold or something”.

Camp Manna poster

Noting that summer camps are a rite of passage for children living in the US, Koons’ own experience - when he attended a Christian camp for a week as a child – was less than memorable.

“It was a horrible experience for me – I faked appendicitis to try to get sent home because I was crying the whole time,” he recalls. “I’m a sensitive artist, I think that’s why. But, no…the Bible study was about Revelation which was terrifying for me and the bathrooms were disgusting [so] I refused to go.”

There are no girls in the camp depicted in the film which Koons admits is unusual with most in the US being co-ed. But, by way of explanation, he says the creators didn’t want to tell that story.

“We didn’t want to tell the coming of age, like, love story,” he says. “We wanted to tell the story of like, the way Christian dudes…are just weird..."

Koons, who grew up in Detroit but now lives in Grand Rapids in Michigan with his wife and two girls aged seven and eight, was himself raised in the Reformed church tradition – “what some people call the ‘frozen chosen’,” he says – and just last year converted to the Orthodox Church. He agrees it’s been a big change, especially given the sort of content he creates.

“I can’t explain it…I think I’m still working that out," he says. 

He adds that there's an aspect to orthodoxy which is not unlike being an actor learning their lines or how to become a particular character - in the Orthodox tradition he says this means the participant practicing and preparing a lot for the day when they are “united with Christ”.

Koons says his faith provides him with a daily focus on his journey to get in touch with who God is. 

“But like I said, it’s fairly new to me, so I’m still working it all out.”

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The Ben Hur Chariot Race, part of the God Games in the film Camp Manna.

The directors have rejected the idea of the film as a “Christian movie”, saying that faith-based films feel like "propaganda”. Koons says he wouldn’t call it a Christian film either “in the same way that Happy Gilmour isn’t a golf movie”.

In that sense, the makers, including Koons, are hopeful that it should have a general appeal.

“It’s just life and, like, how ridiculous some of the stuff we do is – that Christians do and non-Christians do,” he says. “We’re all kind of in this together.”

As to its reception among the faithful, Koons reckons that Christians are “getting better” at being able to laugh at themselves.

But he adds that: “We made this movie in 2015 and a lot has changed since then...It’s a different world now…but I think we definitely need to be laughing more…”

Camp Manna is available for digital download in Australia from 20th March.