How to Get to Heaven With The Hutterites - TV review

At first glance, the life in the reclusive Canadian Hutterite community looks relatively normal.

The reclusive Hutterite life revolves around church and family
The reclusive Hutterite life revolves around church and family

Here people are, throwing balls about, mowing the lawn, relaxing for the cameras.

“We don’t have to worry about money, only our children,” one resident beams, clean skin glistening, health radiating from her bones.

BBC cameras were given a rare opportunity to see behind the walls of a notoriously secretive religious community in How To Get To Heaven With The Hutterites, with Zach Waldner, the minister and community leader, inviting them in.

“We try to insulate our people, not isolate them, teach them what is right and wrong. If they have a conscience, they will watch what they do,” Zach says.

The conscience is there to prevent people going in bars or watching movies, according to Zach, come which point, the sheen came off the gentle Hutterite life, as the promise of a glass of wine and Die Hard at the end of the day’s graft were snatched away.

Actually, it looks exceptionally hard work being a Hutterite – aside from missing out on trips to the pictures and being denied the odd pint.

To buy anything beyond what’s shared (and permission must be sought before anything is used), everyone has an allowance of four dollars a month.

“You didn’t think of going out and having a good time because we are Christians,” one villager says, looking as though going out and having a dance are ideas which have never once crossed her mind. “They aren’t really supposed to have a good time.”

If you want to pop into town, you must get permission from the village elders – who all happen to be Zak’s brothers.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, since nearly everyone is related. Zak has seven children and 23 grandchildren, but the whole colony is only around 100 people strong. Men seek marriages from other nearby colonies.

People spend their whole lives living and working shoulder to shoulder. “It’s our life structure,” Zak says. “If everyone goes where they want, how would we control it?”

The isolation shows. The Hutterite accent bears a craggy, north European edge, and their hymns are sung in German.

The documentary isn’t exactly fast-paced. Shots of Hutterites at prayer linger on, as does footage of workers stuffing chickens into bags and sermons on how communalism works. It’s hardly ‘Geordie Shore’.

But once the hour-long documentary discovers the frustration of the younger Hutterites, it bursts into life.

While many are happy to live the peaceful, hard-working Hutterite lifestyle, 15-year-old Waylen is frustrated, spending every day wandering the chicken sheds gathering eggs.

“I don’t really like animals,” he says glumly, dreaming of another world where he is an architect in a fancy house.

Kelly, meanwhile, is an outstanding photographer, who has struggled for acceptance among his peers.

“The easiest way to open new doors in my life and photography is to leave the colony,” he says. “It’s like a cocoon with a butterfly in it, waiting to come out.”

In the end, he films his own flight, and makes it out to the wider world.

It’s hard not to be happy for Kelly, and makes a surprisingly beautiful climax to a programme which, in truth, had otherwise struggled to get into second gear.

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