Originally published on Telly Binge.
By Will Barber Taylor
Communities are often a fascinating subject for documentaries. Whether they are extreme cults or cosy country villages, as viewers we often see much of ourselves reflected in the people that feature in such programmes. Inside The Bruderhof follows the inhabitants of The Bruderhof, a village in Sussex owned and lived in by a community of conservative Christians.
Children do not own phones or view television, no one is payed for any work that they do, and everyone apparently looks after themselves. Though the BBC are often incredible at producing documentaries that are thought provoking, there is a problem with Inside The Bruderhof and that is its presentation. At times, it feels less like an objective look at a particular closed community and more a slightly romanticised vision of an idyllic society.
Regardless of whether you believe the Bruderhof to be a paradise or not, presentation is important and there are certain points in which the documentary focuses more on the idea of how nice it must be not to have any contact with the nastier side of social media rather than the sometimes restrictive practises of the community.
This is not to suggest that the inhabitants of the Bruderhof are not nice people – they certainly seem pleasant enough. But the documentaries questioning of their lifestyle – particularly that of the women and the more restrictive clothing they have to wear in comparison to the men – is not examined in quite the depth that it should be.
Certainly, questions are raised about these issues, but they seem to be put on the back burner in comparison with allowing the people of the Bruderhof to say how jolly nice it is that they are where they are. Nor is any great question given to the Bruderhof’s financing; the village collectively owns a multimillion-pound toy company, but this is only mentioned in passing.
Nor is the fact that the Bruderhof is whole heartedly not a democracy and that people are simply “told where to go”. No question is asked by the film makers about parliamentary or council representation or whether the villagers even vote at all outside their own society. The fact these questions aren’t adequately answered or in some instances aren’t put at all is concerning given how closed off the community is. Accusations as to how the Bruderhof previously treated residents and those who have accused it of causing abuse in the past are dismissed as simply being in the past with no further explanation as to what these accusations are.
Ultimately, whilst it is easy to pick at the holes of Inside The Bruderhof it is still an interesting look at a community that very few people have heard of who live a way of life that seems totally alien to most people in Britain. The people who live in the Bruderhof seem like perfectly pleasant people and it is perhaps to their credit that they are open enough to allow a film crew into their lives. Yet, it is a shame that at times it feels as if the documentary does not fully get to the heart of what the community is or why so many find it so enchanting.