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American Experience: The Amish
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55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
The Amish are such an iconic part of rural America these days that it will startle viewers of this amazing two-hour documentary to learn: Just half a century ago, hundreds of Amish parents were jailed as criminals for refusing to keep their children in school past the 8th Grade. Eventually, a U.S. Supreme Court decision freed the Amish to maintain their own culture, including foreshortened education for Amish youth.

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.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2012
I just got done watching this on PBS. Very well done and the most in depth Amish documentary I have ever seen. The minute the program was over I went scrambling on the internet to find out if it was available on video. Looks like tonight was the DVD release date. I'm in luck! Anyways, highly recommended. If you want to learn about the Amish, their lives in both a historical and religious view, both past and present, this is your movie. Very sad though was reliving the nightmare of the 2006 Amish school children murders. Feels like it just happened yesterday!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2012
VERY ENJOYABLE....Looking at the Amish people there was something very different about them, maybe it was how they dressed, they looked apart from everyone eles. But they dressed very nice, seemed to be deeply religious people. and hard working. And i was amazed with their FORGIVNESS, by attending the funeral of the Murderer who slaughted five of their children. These people interest me, they lived in a very rural part of the country. Everything looked beautiful, and Especialy in FALL when the leaves on the trees were glowing in many beautiful colors. The Amish people looked healthy, due to them being Farmers had alot to do with it, with that healthy outdoor life. It certainly looked to be good air out that way. I think its somewhat of a pity as the children grow up, to leave the community for the bright lights, and a new life. As the number of Amish people will become less. This was a nice documentary of THE AMISH, showing us their way of life. The photography was excellent, we see the beautiful countryside where they lived, and all of their animals, they were mainly horses and cows. Although i thought the animals did it tough in the WINTER, they looked very bleak and lonely out there in the fields as it snowed. A cover would have helped protect them from the cold. A Shame.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2013
You get a good feel for what it must be like to live as Amish. Very touching at times. It makes you question what's really important in your own life and if you're really living it right,
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2012
This is a very well done documentary about the Amish, their background, and the struggle they face maintaining their beliefs and way of life in our ever changing society. I highly recomend it to anyone interested in having some general knowledge about the Amish.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2012
Before writing this review, I read all four of the reviews already submitted and I agree with those reviewers. It was a well balanced program, divided into approximately equal length segments, each entitled for one of the four seasons. I have been intrigued by these people for quite a long time. Can't say why exactly. The landscape is absolutely stunning and the photography showed it extremely well. There is heartbreak in everybody's stories and two heartbreaks in this story were the two folks who chose to leave the Amish and the Nickle Mines tragedy. I do wonder if, after going through Rumspringer (?sp), if a young adult decides not to join the Amish faith, is it still as difficult for the person leaving? In one part of the film, the comment was made "the boy's place at table is always set and nobody else can sit in that place." And, why do they gather only every other Sunday for community worship? That ehy have morning devotions every day with just the family there is wonderful.

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
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2013
This is one of the best shows I've ever seen about the Amish. It is respectful of their wishes not to be filmed up close, or as respectful of that as it can be without not being filmed at all. It speaks to their history as well as their community, both the good and the bad. It also shows the simple beauty of their world, a world that has long passed away for most of us today who were not raised and no longer live in tune with the land and the seasons of the earth.

The series is broken up into four parts based upon the seasons. The most heartbreaking portion was the one that covers the shooting of the ten Amish girls in their schoolhouse (five died), but it also shows how the Amish reacted to that horrific incident...with forgiveness and submission to God's will. Some of them attended the burial of the killer and others went to his family's home to offer their forgiveness. It was very sad and touching, and underscores how the Amish see the world.

It includes interviews with current Amish people (you do not see their faces), former Amish, and historians and anthropologists. The best bits are when you hear the words of the Amish as they overlay scenes of their lives--cooking, hanging out the wash, feeding the animals, plus the children playing games as all children do.

The series also portrays the trials of the Amish as their lifestyle became more and more divergent from the rest of the world, as well as the troubles they have today in trying to maintain their faith and beliefs in the face of modern temptations. This becomes especially troublesome when more and more of them need to go out into the "English" world to make a living.

Wonderful show, beautifully filmed. One of the best American Experience programs ever.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
(Note: this is a review of the Bluray Version though it is the same program as the DVD)

There are - by many estimates - nearly 150,000 Amish living in the US - mostly in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but also in Indiana, Ohio and New York State. Lancaster County alone gets 15-20 MILLION visitors each year, who come to "see" the Amish and participate in what they call the "Amish Experience'. I live within an hour of Lancaster County and travel there a few times each summer for the open air and piece and quiet of this beautiful land. I'm not there to "see" the Amish but to support their businesses (fresh produce and farm products) and I get to chat with them at that time. I try to avoid the "tourist traps" like the "Typical Amish Farm" (a commercial enterprise to give the "English" (the name the Amish give to non-Amish.). When I saw this PBS DVD was available I was anxious to see it. It did not disappoint. And I learned a few things I didn't know.

The hardest part of making a film about a sect like the Amish is that they have a rule that they don't want to be filmed. The reason is that by filming them, the outsiders are "taking their image". British Director David Belton found a partial way around this by spending days among the Amish in Lancaster County getting to know them and explaining the purpose behind the film. He was able to get ONE family to allow themselves to be filmed. Other shots are from a distance with faces turned or only audio interviews while nature scenes are shown.

The nearly two-hour film begins with the tourists and the buggy rides and candy stores in Paradise, PA but soon moves on to show us family life and interview both current Amish and a few who left the sect. A few historians, and sociologists are interviewed to provide some background. There is no real "narrator".

There is a section on the 2006 Nickel Mine school disaster where 10 young girls were shot, five of whom died.

A few of the other reviews here - some based on the version that aired on PBS - should provide you more background.

The Blu-ray contains one "bonus feature" - a "Behind the Scenes" featurette with commend from the Producer and the Director. It only runs just under three minutes. (I'm assuming this is on the standard DVD as well.) The beauty of the land shines through in sharp images accompanied by an original score.

As others have said, this well-balanced film is probably the best documentary on the Amish. (Can you imagine the sales of this DVD if every one of those visitors to Lancaster County bought a copy??)

I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.

Steve Ramm
"Anything Phonographic"
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2013
Living in an Amish area & having lots of Amish friends 7 neighbors, we have found this is one of the most realistic videos we have seen.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2013
It was good. Not anything I didn't know already. I felt though I was peeking in on people that had no idea they were being filmed,which when they pointed and ran or covered their faces it was obvious a lot of the footage was without permission. So that made me sad. If you are going to do a documentary on The Amish it would be fair to the view to say on the packaging,we filmed most of this without their consent. the scenery would make a lovely documentary in itself.
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