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</script></div>{/googleAds}The Amish believe that the decision to devote one's life to the church is an irreversible lifetime commitment. They also hold that living an Amish lifestyle requires a very conservative and isolated existence void of "English" distractions such as electricity, cars, radio, television and many other modern conveniences. Before making such a commitment and so that the decision is an informed one, an Amish youngster, upon turning 16, is allowed to explore the outside world (the devil's playground) unsupervised and ungoverned by the behavioral restrictions and community rules imposed by the religion. They may date, go out with friends and while the church does not officially condone it, the teens often smoke, use drugs and drink alcohol. The intent of rumspringa (running around) is to make certain that youth are giving their informed consent should they eventually decide to be baptized into the Amish faith. Stunningly, 90% of the teens return for a lifetime commitment to the church and community.

It is this period of rumspringa that is the primary focus of Lucy Walker's disturbingly mesmerizing documentary entitled Devil's Playground. She follows several teens as they participate in rumspringa in LaGrange County, Indiana including 18-year old Faron who has been in the devil's playground for two years, is jobless and hooked on Crank but still steadfastly states his intentions of returning to the church.

We also meet Gerald who admits he has no desire to return to the church yet is quickly growing tired of the party life; Velda, who returned to the church only to later leave again (punishment for doing so is eternal family shun); and the undecided Joann who, realizing the finality of her choice, struggles with her decision.

That Walker was able to gain access to the Amish community is a testament to her hard work as a filmmaker. One of the restrictions of the Amish community is to discourage being photographed or filmed. Walker worked for several years, slowly gaining more and more access to the community in exchange for her trust and unobtrusiveness. The most alluring aspect of the film is not necessarily seeing the Amish on film or even hearing the teens talk about their lives. What intrigued me most of all was the troubling irony of watching these innocent youths in traditional Amish garb as they roller skated, bowled, played video games, smoked cigarettes, drank beer and cursed like longshoremen. Seeing ultra-conservative religious values as they mix with the perceived evils of modern American society is a bit disturbing, yet it has that unavoidable train-wreck allure that is as intoxicating as it is mystifying.

Devil's Playground raises questions, inspires thought and demands introspection. Walker's success in remaining true to the genre allows for compelling viewing. Her refusal to take sides on the topics at hand displays the traits of a seasoned filmmaker, despite the fact that this is her first film. I did not come away from the film with a disrespect for the Amish community, nor was I embarrassed by my own. She presents the issues that exist in both communities, giving equal measure to each. Although I personally feel that it is not necessary to completely disassociate oneself from the technological progress of the world to worship, I do have a curious desire to understand why such a significant percentage of those who go through rumspringa return to their church.


DVD

DVD Details:

Screen formats: Full Screen 1.33:1

Subtitles: None

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailer; deleted scenes; filmmakers' commentary.

* Commentary: Full-length commentary with Lucy Walker, editor Pax Wassermann and producer Steven Cantor as they dicuss the process of gaining access to the Amish community, technical filming details, and the current whereabouts of some of the film's personalities.
* Deleted scenes:
o Matt & Velda: We join the couple as they discuss their relationship with each other and their church.
o Faron Gives Church Tour: We join Faron as he gives a tour of his parents house and describes how church is held in the homes of comuunity members.
o Perspectives on Amish Life: Amish historian Tom Meyers discusses some theologies of the Amish church.
* Clip: The film's film festival trailer from producer Wellspring.
* Weblinks: Internet links to Devil's Playground related sites.

Number of discs: 1

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