Hutterite Colony Subject of National Geographic Documentary

By Associated Press

A National Geographic crew is filming a documentary about a Hutterite colony in central Montana, hoping to give viewers an inside look at one of the country's most misunderstood people.

Several weeks ago, the National Geographic Channel began following a Dariusleut colony outside of Lewistown. The network is planning to use the footage in a 10-part series tentatively titled "One Big Family: The Hutterites," to air sometime in 2012.

Because of a confidentiality agreement, the network declined to name the colony that will be featured but said it is one of the smaller colonies in the state, with just 59 members.

Jeff Collins, the director of the National Geographic Channel production, said the film will show Hutterite people telling their own story without an outside narrator. The series will be told through the colony members' words and day-to-day interactions. Collins said the story focuses on one particular colony and will not be a commentary on the entire Hutterite population.

"(The colony) is taking somewhat of a risk by doing it this way, and there may be some Hutterites who don't agree with the way they tell their story," Collins said. "(But) I think the show is going to be amazing — no one has ever had this kind of access before."

Collins said viewers might be surprised with how the colony deals with modern problems.

"The documentary is not a valentine, they have problems, trials and tribulations and issues just like any other family does," Collins said. "The way they solve them is what's interesting to us because they believe in resolving them when problems come up whereas a lot of families can be passive aggressive and let things fester until it turns into a bad wound that can't heal anymore."

Woven into those conflicts is the struggle to determine how many modern conveniences to accept into their lives.

"They are very aware of that struggle about how much of the modern world is too much," Collins said. "One person used an example. He said, 'Our grandparents used to plow these fields with horses and plows and now we do it with modern tractors that have air conditioning and a GPS satellite system, so yes, we have evolved, and in a way that's what is necessary for us to survive.'"

Collins said he was fascinated by how well colony members treat each other, young and old alike, and how inclusive and cooperative they are.

He said many members hope the documentary will clear up misconceptions about their people.

"They find it upsetting that people think they don't pay taxes, and that's not true," Collins said. "They also find it upsetting that people think they intermarry. They don't; they don't have multiple wives and they marry people from other colonies. There are all these misconceptions about who they are. They're not a cult, they're Christians and they're really just like everybody else."

By dropping the stigmas, Collins said, people will come to see they're good-natured people who love where they come from and the people in their community and neighboring towns.

"They are so unbelievably proud of Montana," Collins said. "They just think it is the most beautiful place, and it is. The part of the state they live in in central Montana is beyond God's country. Plus, they really do believe in the earth and the water, and they were green before green was cool. They don't waste anything."

The colony holds its spiritual beliefs in just as high regard as the land on which they live, Collins said. He said particularly interesting is the fact that they don't believe in kicking anyone out of the colony, no matter what they do.

"There is no expulsion. People are shunned, they do believe in shunning, but their belief is that if you have a problem and are doing something bad, God will eventually bring you back to your senses," Collins said. "(They believe) love of family and belief in their religion is what will fix whatever is wrong."

Collins said though the crew was asked not to film the colony's religious activities, they saw how important faith is in the Hutterites' lives.

"Religion is an enormous thing, and it is the glue that holds them together," Collins said. "They have a nightly prayer meeting service before dinner every night, except in the midst of heavy harvest. In that prayer meeting before dinner, they talk about and bring up problems that might have happened during the day. Things like if somebody had a disagreement or didn't follow through on something and has some bad feelings, they talk about that."

Collins said he can't wait to air the show and give viewers the chance to better understand Hutterites.

"I have never seen a group of people who are happier," Collins said. "I think a big reason people will watch is they will be fascinated by them. We have this group of people most of us never heard of and yet they're Americans and live right in our backyard.

"To me, that's a show I would watch, because you don't often get a chance to (show) that."

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