This film will air in the U.S. as part of PBS's American Experience series on Tuesday, February 28, 2012, from 8 - 10 pm ET. (Check local listings for the time in your area.)


The Amish Church was founded 300 year ago in Europe as an offshoot of Anabaptist Christians. Because they believed in adult baptism rather than infant baptism, a practice that was seen as an abomination and was a capital offense punishable by death, thousands of Amish were killed. This persecution only reinforced their desire to be in but not of this world. It also made them feel marginalized as outsiders in America where they settled in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana in the 1730s. The Amish now number about 250, 000 people.

This wide-ranging and well-done documentary is airing as a part of PBS's American Experience series. Written and directed by David Belton, its slow unfolding and gentle music matches the simple rhythms and lifestyle of the Amish people. We were immensely impressed with the creative imagery in three unforgettable scenes by cinematographer Jim Cragg: a procession in a single line of Amish men, women, girls, and boys into the church for worship; a young Amish man employed by a factory rushing at break-neck speed to keep up with his work; and the faces of youth side-by-side lit up by the fireworks they are watching in the sky above them.

As tourists continue to flock to Amish country in Pennsylvania in large numbers, Belton as writer wonders what the attraction is beyond the buggies, the quaint clothing, and the refusal to organize their lives around technology. Do tourists have a secret yearning for a simpler life, a more rigorous sense of community, and the security that comes with disciplined and cohesive faith?

Academic perspectives on these complex questions and other issues are provided by Donald B. Kraybill, author of several books on the Amish; David Weaver-Zercher, Professor of American Religious History at Messiah College; Karen M. Johnson-Weiner , Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York; Stephen M. Nolt, a Professor of History at Goshen College; and others.

Although the Amish place great importance on the family as a place to teach religion and the values which sustain life, it is the church that provides a lifeline to every member of the community. Other aspects of Amish existence explored during this two-hour film are the battles over compulsory school attendance, the legal struggle against individuals not complying with building codes because they rely on manmade technology, the ideal of the submissive wife, the strife and confusion over rebels who leave the Amish fold and are shunned, the drop in farming and the search for jobs in factories, the rite of passage known as Rumspringa for youth, and the search for cheaper and more spacious land out West where adventurous souls hope to establish new communities. This documentary also includes a segment on the 2006 murders of five Amish schoolgirls and the practice of forgiveness to the family of the killer; some members of the community also attended his funeral.

The Amish offers an incisive survey of this controversial religion and its fascinating practices designed to strengthen faith and community.

This film will air in the U.S. as part of PBS's American Experience series on Tuesday, February 28, 2012, from 8 - 10 pm ET. (Check local listings for the time in your area.)

It is also available on DVD.

Special features on the DVD include: "Behind the Scenes."