The documentary film “The Amish” airs on American Experience on PBS tonight (8pm EST). I was able to preview the film at the Young Center while in PA last week.  One big challenge for the filmmakers was creating a documentary featuring the Amish when no Amish appear face-to-face with the camera.

However numerous Amish did agree to be interviewed for the documentary, and their voices fill the film.  The Amish commentary adds much to the story, which over its 2-hour length ranges from Amish history to customs and beliefs to the Amish place in contemporary American society.

Adding to the Amish commentary is that of various experts and scholars of the Amish, as well as some former Amish.  Though no one was interviewed in front of the camera, there is also quite a bit of footage of Amish themselves, often taken at a distance or in unposed situations.  For instance a Pennsylvania farmer agreed to be captured on film, and the goings-on at his farm appear throughout.  Youth meetings are filmed along with numerous shots of schoolchildren and church gatherings.

One thing that strikes you is that “The Amish” is a visually captivating film, an aspect enhanced by a beautiful musical score.  The cinematographers did well to capture the natural beauty of Amish environs, and the film is quite artistically done.  You can make a good film on the Amish without the stunning visuals, but having them adds a lot to the experience.

“The Amish” is also commendable in its geographical breadth.  Rather than focusing on only one or two settlements, it covers a range of communities.  Besides the PA-OH-IN Amish heartland the filmmakers’ reach extends to settlements in the Northeast and West.  On a personal level I got a special kick out of recognizing some of the speakers and locations and to the filmmakers’ credit at one point I felt like I was almost visiting with friends again.

I also really appreciated a segment following a family inspecting land for a new community.  It brought home the implications of uprooting your family to try to make a go in a totally new area, not knowing if enough families will even join you for your venture to survive.  The Amish story has been one of migration and nowadays with new settlements popping up everywhere that is as true as ever.

The main quibble I had with “The Amish” is that I feel there is a bit too much devoted to the ex-Amish experience (perhaps 3 or 4 minutes too long).  I feel like the second (male) ex-Amish speaker could have been cut and Saloma Furlong’s experience probably would have been enough to cover that aspect.  That said it is a minor complaint and it is good they present voices from this side of the Amish experience as well.

PBS has done quite a good job on “The Amish”, and if you have the time it’s well worth viewing this evening.  I believe the film might also be available at some point online (PBS makes a lot of the American Experience series watchable on their site, though I haven’t heard confirmation PBS will do that with “The Amish”–UPDATE–the film is now available in its entirety online via the link below the video player).

Also, you can now watch the opening segment of the film below (the segment below is different from the Nickel Mines segment which I previously shared last month here- PBS American Experience Amish film).

I’ll be looking forward to hearing what you think on this film.

Watch The Amish on PBS. See more from American Experience.