Motion Pictures and Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites

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A motion picture, also called a film or movie, is a story told in a series of moving images often with sound, dialogue and music. Filmmaking is both an art form and a business and the product is a cultural artifact. Films are generally expensive, complex, use much equipment and technology, and require many people with different skills. The visual, audible, and emotional impact on viewers by motion pictures is very forceful and when motion pictures are viewed in a theatre it is also a group experience. However, a viewer’s appreciation and interpretation of motion pictures varies greatly, for each person brings his or her own set of ideas, information, and preconditions to the one to three hour viewing experience.

Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites have been incorporated into motion pictures in surprising numbers, particularly in North America and beginning near the end of the 20th century. This phenomenon was in part encouraged by the success of the 1985 film Witness. In almost all non-documentary films the depiction of Anabaptists is seriously flawed and contains serious errors in costume, behaviour, theology, culture, and in the use of names. Film makers seem enamoured by rural conservative Amish but most motion pictures either parody Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites or use their culture as an interesting setting to attract an audience to their story. The two films Amish Grace and Happy as the Grass was Green have significant insider Mennonite contributions and come closest to presenting a valid image of Amish and Mennonites. The film Silence at Bethany also provides a realistic portrait of Mennonites, and in Jesus’ Son a gospel singing Mennonite woman gives a recovering addict surprising healing. Though the dialogue about Mennonites is quite short in Matewan, it provides an inspiring affirmation of Mennonite pacifism by an outside film maker.

Historic Anabaptism seems to have been depicted in only one East German and one West German film, and these focus only on the revolutionary Anabaptists. The pacifism and especially the simple rural and non-technological bucolic life style and culture of conservative Amish and Mennonites of America have captivated a number of motion picture producers. This has led them to use their life style and costumes in motion picture numbers out of proportion to their actual numbers. In American culture they are in reality rare for they live very simple ordinary lives with modesty, without violence or greed and with limited conflict. Most Mennonites and all Hutterites and Amish desire to be left alone and to be ignored by all associated with motion pictures. They even discourage people viewing these films for their depiction of their Christian faith is often wrong.

This article deals only with feature films, commercial entertainment motion pictures produced by photographic film and digital recordings. Short films, episodic television depictions, and documentary films of Amish, Anabaptists, Hutterites or Mennonites are not listed here.

Commercial Entertainment Motion Pictures

Title Date of Release Producer Director Notes
49th Parallel 1941 Michael Powell and John Sutro Michael Powell A British Second World War propaganda film in which stranded German submariners encounter different Canadians including Hutterites as they try to escape to the USA.
Amish Grace 2010 Lifetime Movie Network A TV film based on the 2006 Nickel Mines Amish school shootings and the spirit of forgiveness the Amish community demonstrated in its aftermath.
Amish Murder, An 2013 Lifetime Television Stephen Gyllenhaal TV murder drama; a young banished Amish women now a police chief returns to her Ohio community to investigate a murder which triggers deep-seated emotions.
Bikini Bandits 2002 Steve Grasse A ridiculous film of scantily clad women acting outrageously. One of the minor characters they encounter is a mentally challenged Amish boy.
Birch Interval 1976 Gamma III Delbert Mann An eleven-year-old girl goes through extreme culture shock when she leaves the city and moves in with her Amish cousins.
Breaking the Ice 1938 RKO Radio Pictures Edward F. Cline A conservative Mennonite boy encounters bullies and corrupt businessmen but he triumphs as a singer while working in an ice rink.
Catch-22 1970 Filmways Inc., Paramount Pictures Mike Nichols A black comedy based on the Joseph Heller anti-war novel of the same name. In a Second World War USA Bomb Group the chaplain identifies himself as an Anabaptist.
Confession, The 2013 Believe Pictures Production Michael Landon Jr. Second TV movie based on a book by Beverly Lewis. An Amish girl locates her birth mother and encounters greedy relatives.
David im Wunderland 1998 Die Zweite Hauskunst Film, Duesseldorf, Moritz Seibert A German film in which the viewers follow the exploits of two boys – one from a Christian community called the “Jacobin,” an Amish like community, and the other without any real religion. The Jacobin boy is introduced to the other's very different modern way of life. At first he finds it fascinating but in time finds it also very problematic.
Deadly Reactor 1989 AIP Productions David Heavener In a post-apocalyptic world the survivors live like Amish and are preyed upon by a violent gang that meets its end by a lone gunfighter.
For Richer or Poorer 1997 Universal Pictures Bryan Spicer A wealthy miserable couple flee New York and IRS agents to live with Pennsylvania Amish where they masquerade as distant relatives. In the process they rediscover affection in being unselfish and in helping others.
Gentle People and the Quiet Land, The 1972 BJW Productions Richard Bartlett A young Pennsylvania Amish girl falls for a free-spirited young man and she becomes pregnant. After a miscarriage she returns to her Amish community where she finds peace.
Girl With the Jazz Heart 1923 A "flapper" film in which a young women escapes her dower religious step family for New York. Here she meets a worldly friend and falls in love. The religion is given a fictitious name but the beards and clothing are similar to that worn by Old Order River Brethren. This silent film is now lost but there are still photos and reviews.
Happy as the Grass was Green (reissued as "Hazel’s People") 1973 Bert Martin Associates Production Charles Davis A college student re-examines his life when he accompanies a friend to a funeral in the Mennonite country in Pennsylvania. Once he arrives in the small town, he connects with the simple lifestyle there, and he discovers Christ.
Harvest of Fire 1996 Sofronski Productions Arthur Allan Seidelaman A TV movie in which an FBI agent is sent to investigate a hate crime in a small Amish community after three barns are burned down.
Hazel’s People: see: Happy as the Grass was Green
Holy Matrimony 1994 Hollywood Pictures Leonard Nimoy A comedy; thieves hideout in a Canadian Hutterite colony with their loot, join the colony, and when the husband dies a young Hutterite boy must marry his late brother’s wife.
Holyman Undercover 2010 Pure Flix Entertainment David A.R. White A Christian comedy in which an Amish man goes to Hollywood to find his uncle but finds success and trouble when he is cast as Satan on nighttime soap opera.
Jesus’ Son 1999 Lion’s Gate Films Alison MacLean Set in the 1970s, a young man turns from drug addiction and petty crime in the midwest USA to rehabilitation and redemption in Arizona. His final recovery is greatly helped by encountering a Mennonite couple and in voyeuristic manner listens to the wife sing the gospel song "Farther Along."
Kingpin 1996 Rysher Entertainment Bobby and Peter Farrelly A comedy in which a disabled bowler encounters an Amish man bowling and convinces him to enter a tournament.
Living in a Perfect World 2006 National Geographic Channel International Diego D'Innocenzo, and Marco Leopardi A documentary film about four Russian Mennonites living in their communities in the Chihuahua Mexican desert and in the Bolivian forest. The four families long for a perfect world in balance between tradition and modernity.
Matewan 1987 Cinecom International Films John Sayles A labor organizer comes to a coal miners' strike in Matewan, West Virginia in the 1920s and explains how his interaction with pacifist Mennonites conscientious objectors in prison formed his pacifist beliefs.
Night They Raided Minskys, The 1968 Bud Yorkin-Norman Lear William Friedkin A young Amish lady, Rachel Schpitendavel, has run away from her stern father to New York in order to dance Bible scenes. Instead she joins a burlesque show and invents the striptease.
Outsider, The 2002 Coote Hayes Productions Randy Hains A 19th-century western set in Montana. An Amish widow nurses a wounded outlaw and for this is shunned. The man recovers and kills the evil cattle baron who covets Amish land.
Plain Truth 2004 Muse Entertainment Enterprise Paul Shapiro A TV court drama based on the Jodi Picoult book of the same name. A dead infant is found and an unmarried 18 year old Amish girl is charged with her death. An attorney relative comes to defend her.
Radicals, The 1990 Sister and Brothers Production Paul V Carrera A dramatization of the Anabaptist martyrs Michael and Margaretha Sattler who were put to death by the Catholic Church in 1527.
Reckoning, The 2015 Believe Pictures Production Michael Landon Jr. Third TV movie based on a book by Beverly Lewis. An Amish women leaves her community to a troubled American life.
Saving Sarah Cain 2007 Believe Pictures Production Michael Landon Jr. A newspaper columnist travels to a Pennsylvania Amish community for her sister’s funeral and becomes guardian for her five orphaned children. Contemporary life causes unhappiness in all when she returns with them to Portland. Then they all return to the Amish.
Sex Drive 2008 Alloy Entertainment Sean Anders A vulgar road trip film with high school senior and two friends embarking on a cross country drive. On their way they have car trouble and meet an Amish man Ezekiel who helps them. One of the travelers meets an Amish woman Mary and they fall in love and he joins her with the Amish.
Shunning, The 2011 Believe Pictures Production Michael Landon Jr. TV movie based on the first of a trilogy of books with the same titles by Beverly Lewis. An Amish girl on the verge of marriage discovers she was adopted by an Amish women.
Silence of Bethany 1989 American Playhouse, Joel Oliansky Set in 1940s Pennsylvania, a young man returns to his Mennonite community, marries, and is chosen by lot to be their preacher. How conflict in Mennonite families and community is dealt with is the core of the film. This film gives a realistic portrait of Pennsylvania Mennonites of the 1940s.
Small Town Murder Songs 2010 3 Legged Dog Film Ed Gass-Donnelly A murder drama set in a small Mennonite town in Ontario where the police chief’s faith and desire for peace are severely challenged.
Snob, The 1924 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Monta Bell Silent film based on the novel The Snob: The Story of a Marriage by Helen R. Martin. In the film the main male character is Mennonite but in the book he is not. The film is now considered lost but there are still photos and reviews
Spielregel für einen Wiedertäuferfilm (Rules for a Film About Anabaptist) 1977 Georg Brintrup A 16mm semi-documentary West German film about the policy of the Anabaptists of Münster and about the 'enemies of constitution' in West Germany (1976). A political film that was very successful at the festivals of Berlin, Rotterdam and Pesaro, but was never shown on public TV.
Stellet Licht 2007 Carlos Reygadas Carlos Reygadas An award winning Mexican film set in a Mennonite colony in Mexico. A drama of a happily married man falls in love with another woman. The dialogue is in Plautdietsch.
Stoning in Fulham County, A 1988 Landsburg Co. Larry Elikann This TV court drama film set in rural North Carolina Amish community. A young prosecutor wins his case against rock throwing youth who kill an Amish baby even though the Amish want no part in the court process.
They Call Me Renegade 1987 Lucio Bompani Enzo Barboni A violent drifter accompanies a teenage boy on a road trip across southern USA to a rural property owned by the teen’s father. Upon arrival they meet the friendly Amish neighbours. In the style of Italian Westerns.
Thomas Müntzer 1956 Progress Film Verleih Martin Hellberg An East German biography film of the revolutionary Anabaptist leader.
Tillie 1922 Realart Pictures Frank Urson A silent film based on the novel of the same name by Helen Martin. The daughter of stern Mennonite father attempts suicide then flees to get her freedom. The film is now considered lost but there are still photos and reviews.
Violent Saturday 1955 Twentieth Century-Fox Richard Fleischer A crime drama in which an Amish family in western USA are victims of a bank robbery gang. In the final shoot-out the Amish father kills one of the robbers.
Warlock 1989 Steve Miner Steve Miner A warlock flees from Boston of 1691 to the 20th century with a witch-hunter chasing him. A major confrontation takes place on a Mennonite farm in Colorado where the Mennonite father has placed a Hex mark on his barn.
Witness 1985 Edward S. Feldman Peter Weir A young Amish boy is sole witness to a murder; policeman John Book goes into hiding in Amish country to protect him until the trial.

Bibliography

Carpenter, Steven P. Mennonites and Media: Mentioned in it, Maligned by it, and Makers of It. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015. 226pp.

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) http://www.imdb.com.


Author(s) Victor G Wiebe
Date Published January 2015


Cite This Article

MLA style

Wiebe, Victor G. "Motion Pictures and Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. January 2015. Web. 11 Dec 2017. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Motion_Pictures_and_Amish,_Hutterites,_and_Mennonites&oldid=130811.

APA style

Wiebe, Victor G. (January 2015). Motion Pictures and Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 11 December 2017, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Motion_Pictures_and_Amish,_Hutterites,_and_Mennonites&oldid=130811.




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