'The Amish: Shunned' review: Shedding light on outcasts

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THE SHOW "The Amish: Shunned: American Experience"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 9 on WNET/13

WHAT IT'S ABOUT A closed -- and close-knit -- religious group, about 300,000 Amish live in various communities scattered around the country, mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. This film, by Callie T. Wiser, follows seven individuals who left their communities, home and church for various reasons, which they explain here -- too restrictive, or a rebellious teen spirit that inspired one or two to leave in the dead of night.

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Some have a desire to see the world, or to learn. (Amish formal education ends at around age 13.) Others had spiritual doubt. They are: Naomi Kramer, Levi Shetler, Saloma Furlong, Joe Keim, Jan Edwards, Paul Edwards and Anna (no last name given, because she had rejoined the church after filming ended). Amish are not allowed to speak to a camera, but these seven, who are "shunned" by their communities, have. One man offers this about their new lives: "You're never taught to live in freedom, and all of a sudden you open the door and there is no wall, no roof, no ceiling. It's wide open."

MY SAY Wiser also was involved in the production of 2012's "The Amish" for "American Experience," but this film makes clear that she's found an even more engaging subject in the excommunicated. She has done something quite special here, and at moments almost evokes the master of "direct cinema" himself -- Frederick Wiseman -- by locating something elemental in silence and empty space. About community, heritage, tradition, family and the wellsprings of faith -- particularly what happens when those wellsprings run dry -- "The Amish: Shunned" is most of all about the human heart. Wiser's subjects speak plainly, slowly -- almost in half-measures -- but you can hear the melancholy, regret and aloneness between each word. The camera drinks in a primal, American Primitive landscape of blues and greens. (Much of this was filmed over a 12-month period in and around Amish communities in Indiana and Ohio.) The music track is similarly spare -- a few piano and string chords in a minor key -- but before too long, "Shunned" just might have you under its spell.

BOTTOM LINE A beautiful film


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