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The Amish: Shunned, eternally condemned for their decision to leave?

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A poignant and penetrating look at what it means to be cut off from faith and family, The Amish: Shunned follows seven people who have chosen to leave their closed and tightly-knit communities for the outside world, knowing that they can never return. Each has paid deeply for their decision. Estranged from loved ones, these former Amish find themselves struggling to make their way in modern America. Interwoven with their stories are the voices of staunchly loyal Amish men and women who explain the importance of obedience, the strong ties and traditions that bind them together, and the heartbreak they feel when a loved one falls away. Through its sympathetic portrayal of both sides, the film explores what is gained and what is lost when community and tradition are exchanged for individuality and freedom. Produced, directed and written by Callie T. Wiser, the PBS Distribution DVD release coincides with the PBS airing of the film on February 4.
As a producer on 2012’s The Amish, American Experience's in-depth look at the history, beliefs and traditions of the insular religious community, Wiser was exposed to the concept of shunning. “This is one of the faith’s defining practices in which members of the community cut ties with those who choose to leave,” says Wiser. “We touched on it in the first film, but I was interested in delving further into the practice, and finding individuals whose stories would portray the breadth and variety of shunning.”
Revealing the pain of those who leave and the suffering of those left behind, the film is the story of people confronted with difficult choices. To the Amish, shunning is an essential tenet of their faith and a way to maintain the strength and viability of a tight-knit community. While the practice has helped protect them from the onslaught of modern culture, it is an agonizing decision for parents, relatives and friends to sever ties with loved ones whom they believe to be eternally condemned for their decision to leave.
Many who leave face challenging obstacles: no birth certificates or social security numbers, language barriers since English is not their primary language, and the lack of a support network in the outside world. Young people who leave know that their families will disapprove and some, particularly from stricter communities, run away without saying goodbye to avoid a painful confrontation. They shoulder the burden of knowing their families will wake up to an empty room and the realization they may never see their child again–in this life or the next.
“The film is an emotional roller coaster through a set of universal experiences that anyone can understand even if they’re not Amish,” says Mark Samels, Executive Producer of American Experience. “The longing of a parent for a child, the sadness of a child for the family they have lost, the pain of separation that lasts a lifetime. All of these things are at play in this film.”
Whether out in the world for two weeks or 35 years, the former Amish in the film struggle to create a new sense of community in modern America. The moment of walking out the door begins a lifetime of wondering: “If you are born Amish, must you stay Amish to go to heaven?” Each will spend their days trying to answer that question and to reconcile the life they have lost.

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