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One of the first people we meet in The Amish—airing Tuesday, Feb. 28, on PBS's American Experience—is a voice: "Tell the cameraman to get lost."

On one level the restraint which this places on this movie is also its charm. We hear the voices of Amish with the dreamy atmospherics of hayfields, corn picking, and little children gathering potatoes. One has the feeling this may be an art house film with plain information of white on black and then bucolic farm scenes of the four seasons.

But it isn't. We soon join an Amish tour group in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. We learn that this film is a conversation with us, the millions of tourists and any other people who have some interest in the Amish. We the tourists ask the typical questions about their clothes and beliefs with a Dixie string band playing in the background. But then we're back to the Amish father's voice and his son making hay.

This endearing farmer and his son become our guides to the Amish people and the interpreters we meet in various parts of the United States. The film seems to be saying okay, the tourist places and guides are available in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Holmes County, Ohio, and Shipshewana, Indiana, but we'll introduce you to the real Amish American experience. If the restraint works visually, it also enhances an economy of explanations; we only hear the traditional Lob Lied (praise hymn), no explanations are given.

We meet the Amish women in this patriarchal society. We hear women speak on the meaning of submission, work, and church. We hear a wife sadly reflect on living with an abusive husband and how it was dealt with in the church. We hear the unadorned women's voices leading out in family gospel songs and spirituals. And a young woman ...

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February 2012

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