Capturing the Friedmans
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and with over $3 million at the box office to date, Capturing The Friedmans is nothing short of the most riveting, provocative, and hotly debated films of the year. Despite their predilection for hamming it up in front of home-movie cameras, the Friedmans were a normal middle-class family living in the affluent New York suburb of Great Neck. One Thanksgiving, as the family gathers at home for a quiet holiday dinner, their front door explodes, splintered by a police battering ram. Officers rush into the house, accusing Arnold Friedman and his youngest son Jesse of hundreds of shocking crimes. The film follows their story from the public’s perspective and through unique real footage of the family in crisis, shot inside the Friedman house. As the police investigate, and the community reacts, the fabric of the family begins to disintegrate, revealing provocative questions about truth, justice, family, and—ultimately—truth.
A Sundance Grand Jury prize winner and a true conversation starter, Capturing the Friedmans travels into one apparently ordinary Long Island family’s heart of darkness. Arnold and Elaine Friedman had a normal life with their three sons until Arnold was arrested on multiple (and increasingly lurid) charges of child abuse. Because the Friedmans had documented their own lives with copious home movies, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki is able to sift through their material looking for clues. Yet what emerges is more surreal than fiction: the youngest Friedman son went to jail, the eldest became a birthday-party clown. In the end, we can’t be sure whether Arnold Friedman is a monstrous child molester or the victim of railroading. The portrait of a disconnected family is deeply disturbing, either way, and this film is further proof that a documentary can be just as spellbinding as anything a great storyteller dreams up. —Robert Horton
Barnes and Noble
Truth is often more harrowing than fiction, but it is a desperately elusive entity; even in a case such as the one explored in this disturbing but mesmerizing documentary, for which first-time filmmaker Andrew Jarecki enjoyed remarkable access to his subjects. Even Jarecki, who persuaded the family of accused child molesters Arnold and Jesse Friedman to cooperate with him, cannot decide whether the two are guilty, and his film raises as many questions as answers. Capturing the Friedmans deals with the middle-class Long Island family torn apart in 1987 by child-molestation charges filed after a police raid uncovered kiddie porn apparently belonging to dad Arnold, a respected high school science teacher. He and his 18-year-old son, Jesse, were subsequently accused of molesting dozens of young boys, and their travails are painstakingly documented in this videotaped compilation, which even includes family footage recorded by another Friedman son, David. We see strategy sessions between Arnold and his attorneys, conflicting testimony from alleged victims, posturing by police investigators and legal teams, and even the heartrending family farewells taped the night before Arnold goes to prison. Despite this wealth of material, the truth remains elusive: We’re not sure that shell-shocked son Jesse was guilty, and there’s a suggestion that he was railroaded when the Friedman case made national headlines. Arnold himself never comes right out and admits to all of the molestations. With various people pursuing their own agendas, it’s hard to know if justice was done fully and impartially. But that seems to be what director Jarecki intended; the Friedman case was extraordinarily complex, and watching it unfold will certainly make you think. One of the most absorbing documentaries in recent memory, Capturing the Friedmans will linger in memory for a long, long time. Ed Hulse