The costumes aren’t quite right, the lead Amish character is improbably named Ida Graber and people are oddly critical of forgiveness.
But the most disturbing aspect of the upcoming television movie “Amish Grace” is the fictional liberties it takes in depicting the aftermath of the 2006 killings of five Amish girls in a Nickel Mines schoolhouse, according to a county resident.
“Just to fictionalize it, it didn’t happen that way,” said Herman Bontrager, an Akron man who acted as a spokesman for the Nickel Mines Amish community after the shootings, which also left five girls wounded.
“Amish Grace” will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 28, on the Lifetime Movie Network.
It stars Kimberly Williams-Paisley, an actress married to country singer Brad Paisley. Known for her roles on the TV show “According to Jim,” and in the films “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride, Part II,” she plays Amish mother Ida Graber.
According to a press release from the network, the movie follows what happens in the community after a gunman shoots the girls and then takes his own life.
“What transpires afterwards takes the community by storm when the media descends on the town and criticizes its Amish leaders for their notion of unconditional forgiveness of the shooter and their outreach of support to his widow,” the press release states.
Charles Carl Roberts IV was the gunman. He left behind a wife, Marie, and three young children.
In the movie, “Amy Roberts” is Roberts’ wife, played by actress Tammy Blanchard.
Amy Roberts and Ida Graber, both in emotional turmoil, find themselves thrown together in the film.
“Deeply conflicted and unable to forgive the gunman and his family, Ida is tempted to leave the only life she’s ever known before re-embracing her faith,” the network press release reads.
According to the Lifetime press release, the movie is based on the book “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy” by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher.
Kraybill, an Elizabethtown sociology professor, and the other two authors distanced themselves from the film in a statement they released Monday.
The authors said they did not own the film rights to their book and were not involved in their sale. A production company bought the rights from the book’s publisher, Jossey-Bass.
“Out of respect to our friends in the Amish community and especially those related to the Nickel Mines tragedy, we declined the producer’s requests to consult and assist in the development of a film,” according to the statement.
Bontrager said he also refused a request to act as an adviser for the film when he was contacted by the movie’s producers late last fall.
Bontrager said the advertisement for the movie includes some false statements, including the notion that the media was critical of the Amish community’s forgiveness of Roberts.
Most reporters were “in awe” of that forgiveness, he said.
Regarding the character of Ida Graber, it is true that members of the Amish community struggled with the grief they felt after the shootings, Bontrager said.
“I do know the Amish went through all of the processes of responding to the tragedy that every human being does, from anger to denial to grief,” he said. “They are quite aware of the steps. I don’t think they were denying their emotions during the process.
“But I am not aware of anyone, to me or anyone I’ve talked with, who almost left their faith.”
After viewing the movie trailer (www.mylifetime.com/movies/amish-grace), Bontrager said the Amish dress portrayed in the movie also is not correct. But the film appears to have bigger problems, he said.
“What strikes me the most is it doesn’t characterize the gentleness of the Amish community and individuals very well,” he said.
An attempt to contact an Amish member of the Nickel Mines community was not successful.
Bontrager said he believes Amish people would not like the movie for several reasons.
First, they don’t want to be portrayed in movies or photographs, he said, and they don’t want publicity for this event.
Also, he said, “Amish tell the truth and are accustomed to telling the truth. When you take an account like this, and make it appear like it happened, and fictionalize it, that’s troubling.”
The statement from the three authors of “Amish Grace” agrees with this point.
“We do know that Amish people are skeptical of movies and books about Amish life that blur fact and fiction, and particularly a movie that addresses such a painful subject,” according to the statement.
The authors said that their share from the sale of the movie rights will go to a nonprofit organization. The three have donated all proceeds from the book to Mennonite Central Committee to provide aid for children suffering due to poverty, war and natural disaster.