The Amish (American Experience) [Blu-ray]
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The Amish intercuts historical analysis with contemporary footage to provide an unprecedented look at this highly private, little understood, and utterly unique community whose beliefs raise important questions about religious liberty in American life.
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Flash forward to 2006 when the Amish response to a mass shooting of children at their West Nickel Mines school suddenly transformed them from quaint emblems of farming life--into globally celebrated saints of peacemaking. As a journalist covering religion in America for several decades, I wrote news stories about Nickel Mines. And, I have published interviews with the leading non-Amish authority on Amish life, the scholar and author Dr. Donald Kraybill. I also strongly recommend, The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, written by Kraybill and his colleagues in the aftermath of Nickel Mines. Now, in this American Experience film, Kraybill again speaks to the world about the Amish.
Of course, viewers immediately will realize one huge contribution of this film is that Kraybill is not the only voice we hear. Other scholars were interviewed, as well, and most of the voices we hear from start to finish are the Amish themselves--men and women.
That phrase--"the truth isn't plain or simple"--was used by American Experience to describe the scope of this film. As a journalist specializing in religion coverage for decades, I have screened pretty much every documentary about the Amish produced in the past 30 years. This documentary shown nationally on PBS is, by far, the best film I have seen about Amish life in America. Yes, the Nickel Mines story is recounted here. Yes, much of the footage is absolutely gorgeous--from stark winter scenes on the Midwest plains to a summer night when the filmmakers caught swarms of lightening bugs rising from the tall grass around a farm. Yes, on balance, the Amish come off as a noble people.
But--this film does examine the painful experience of trying to leave the Amish and it also touches on the nearly impossible problem Amish children and women face if a man in the community becomes abusive. In the documentary, we meet Saloma Furlong, whose departure from her Amish family was especially difficult. If you are intrigued by the film and Saloma's story, I urge you to get a copy of her 2011 memoir, Why I Left the Amish: A Memoir, as well.
For fictional movies about the Amish, I recommend "Plain Truth" and "Amish Grace". "Amish Grace" is based on the Nickle Mines tragedy. "Plain Truth" is a story in which a young Amish woman is granted some visitation in Philadelphia with her brother who has left the Church, becomes pregnant and the baby dies. Mariska Hagerty, from "Law & Order, Special Victims Unit" plays the part of the court-appointed attorney for the young woman. Even tho they are fictitious, there is a lot of truth in these stories.
American Experience has done several documentaries that I have in my video library and all are absolutely superb and deserve to be viewed several times.Plain TruthAmish Grace