You may remember the “Trouble in Amish Paradise” documentary film of a few years ago, which examined two Amish couples’ decisions to leave the Lancaster Amish.
The maker of that film, Andrew Tait, has released a follow-up film called “Leaving Amish Paradise”. This is one of a number of recent films and books on the experiences of former Amish (see also the National Geographic ex-Amish documentary).
Andrew has kindly shared some comments about the making of this film:
This documentary started out as a follow up to one I’d made a few years back, called “Trouble in Amish Paradise” where I’d spent almost a year filming with two Amish families in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who were on the brink of leaving their culture.
It was very hard to find Amish who were prepared to speak to me on camera; the Old Order Amish in Lancaster believe it to be proud and perhaps vain to allow your picture to be taken, and it’s strictly forbidden – it’s the kind of thing that could get you excommunicated. The families I found and who agreed to take part, though, felt so strongly that things weren’t right in the Old Order that they agreed to do the film with me, which I thought was very brave of them. It’s not easy to go against everything you’ve ever been taught.
The issue for them was that they had come to a different spiritual belief than that held by the Old Order Amish. What I found happening in Lancaster was a steady exodus out of the Amish and into modern evangelical Christianity, and I’d heard anecdotally that there was over fifty families each year leaving the Old Order. Each one of those families would have to go through the pain and difficulty of being excommunicated and shunned by their Amish friends and families.
I became close friends with one family in particular through the filming, Ephraim and Amanda Stoltzfus, and stayed in touch with them. The documentary had a big impact on their lives; they’d got letters and emails from people all around the world who’d been touched by their story. Then, one cold day in February, I got a phone call from Ephraim telling me he was in Ireland, staying with a man who’d seen the documentary and invited them to stay with him for a few months. I had no choice; I had to go over and see them. I brought a camera with me, and so the second film began.
They’d since left Amish culture behind, and had a minivan, a telephone, electricity – even a website. But they were still living in the area, surrounded by the same Amish that were shunning them. I wanted to know if it was actually possible for them to leave the culture that had shaped them since birth. It was a difficult film to make. They were my friends, but I had reservations about some of the things they were doing, and some of the choices they were making. But I had to be honest about what I saw and filmed, and I hope I was fair and accurate in my portrayal of their lives. They have seen the film, and told me they were happy with it, and we are still friends.
I feel that we have so much to learn from the Amish, and those who have been Amish. I feel I have been changed by the experience of making these films; I was forced to examine my own values, beliefs and principles and think hard about what’s really important in life. For that I will remain ever grateful.
For obvious reasons, films about leaving the Amish tend to be skewed to the perspective of the leavers. In “Trouble in Amish Paradise”, we mainly got the views of the two couples, particularly Ephraim and Amanda. As challenging as it would be to make, a film documenting the views of those who remain in the church might provide a valuable counter-perspective.
Here’s a preview clip of “Leaving Amish Paradise”, showing one of the couples shopping for church clothes and a car. The film airs tomorrow (Wed Mar. 16) at 9pm on BBC Two. No word yet on American availability.