PBS explores shunning in Amish communities

Monday, 03 February 2014 04:29 PM Written by 

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Two years ago PBS's "The Amish" explored the culture of the Amish but didn't get into the practice of shunning members of the community who choose to leave.

Now a new director looks at the experience of shunning from the shunned point of view in "The Amish Shunned," a two-hour "American Experience" (9 p.m. Tuesday, WQED-TV).

Read more after the jump. ...

When the first program aired, director David Belton told me about a scene he didn't use of an Amish man who breaks down in tears over his own internal conflict about the practice of shunning. While "Amish Shunned" writer/director Callie Wiser had access to some of Belton's footage, she didn't use that particular piece because the man had asked that it not be used. But Wiser said that internal conflict is represented in the new film.

"You'll hear the Amish voices in the film and the non‑Amish," she said. "And there's a lot of conflict internally with each individual. But the point of the Amish, the reason they've survived so long is because they do put their individuality below the good of the community in terms of their priorities. And so it is a struggle that all Amish have. All Amish who have had to shun a parent, a child, a friend, a cousin, an uncle.  They're all somebody's relatives and everybody who's had to do that in her life has had to decide whether that shunning on an individual level is worth building a community on the more Amish level."

"Amish Shunned" did not film in Western Pennsylvania or even much in Lancaster County, instead focusing on shunned members of Amish communities in New York, Ohio and Missouri.

As for the Amish shows on cable like Disocvery Channel's "Amish Mafia," the former Amish participants in "The Amish Shunned" are not fans.

"A lot of those shows are a very inaccurate portrayal of the Amish, and I find them personally kind of disappointing," said Naomi Kramer. "I was very fearful when I was first contacted by PBS to do this documentary because of that. It kind of caused a mistrust for me because of all that's out there in the media. So yeah, I think it has caused mistrust within the Amish culture because they do portray them pretty inaccurately."

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