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Capturing the Friedman’s

Capturing the Friedman’s Capturing the Friedman’s is directed by Andrew Jarecki. The film focuses on the 1980’s investigation and conviction of Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse Friedman on charges of child molestation. This film could certainly be put into the category of accidental excellence as Andrew Jarecki was initially interested in creating a documentary on New York City clowns and it was only through his interviews with David Friedman (the most successful of Manhattan clowns) that he stumbled upon a goldmine of a back-story.

The result is a fascinating and revealing documentary about suburban family dysfunction. The Friedman’s were a middle class Jewish family living on Long Island with their three sons, Seth, Jesse and David. In 1987 Arnold, an award-winning school teacher, was snared by the police in an operation to catch pedophiles. Arnold had ordered a magazine from Denmark that included pictures of nude young boys, and was thus culpable in the eyes of the law for procuring child pornography.

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This “culpability” triggered an extensive police investigation in which boys who had taken computer classes with Arnold were repeatedly questioned. During these interviews several of the children accused Arnold and his teenage son Jesse of molestation, ranging from harassment to violent sexual assault. It is in relation to these police interviews that the film raises an important issue. The film reveals how police are in a position of power such that they can manufacture truth. The footage shot by the Friedman’s themselves is extraordinary and their obsession in documenting everything makes the footage so exclusive.

Jarecki acquired all that footage which was mostly shot by David that makes it self-reflexive because he could be seen on the camera on and off. Some of the footage he shot is so raw that you almost feel like you are invading someone’s private life: one of the home movie clips in which we see David in his video diary crying that he doesn’t have a father or mother and now he is going to lose his brother is just heart wrenching to watch. The mode that is the most identifiable in this whole movie is expository. The way Jarecki structured the whole film.

Even though he obtained most of the archival footage from David, he is the one who weaved together all of the archival materials, the trial, present day interviews, and sometimes audio from the past fused with present visuals. Jarecki framed the film in such a manner that it’s hard to draw conclusion about the ‘truth’. Even though we don’t hear him talking during the film, his (Jareki’s) presence can be felt very strongly. He appears to be neutral due to the uncertainty of the structure and in a way he is letting the audience form their own opinion.

While he presents one argument that gives strong evidence of Friedman’s innocence something equally challenging will be shown to support the other side. For example, we see that there was no physical evidence to prove Arnold was guilty besides the testimonies of children and later he throws in the interview of Arnold’s lawyer who recalls meeting Arnold in the Wisconsin prison where he remembers Arnold requesting to move to a different table as he was getting excited by a little boy who was bouncing on his father’s lap.

The film is a very interesting juxtaposition of conflicting evidence weaved together with the continued twisting of events which makes the audience question “what had really happened”? There is an observational thread throughout the story. Using footage of David during his clown performances, the audience is left to just study this man who has had such a tragic stream of events take over his life. It is interesting to see a person with so much pain and suffering perform and bring joy to small children.

You cannot escape the irony that small children were the reason for his father’s and brother’s incarceration, and yet they are the focus of his career. The film “Capturing the Friedman’s” also has a certain amount of interactivity which can be observed in David’s home footage where he is posing questions to his brother, father and his mother. In one scene we see David and Jesse turn against their mother in their father’s defense, accusing her of betraying the family. We witness David’s hostility mount throughout the film.

During the entire film we see Jarecki asking questions to one of the supposed victims who is lying on the couch while the interview is being conducted. It is seemingly very tough to draw a conclusion from the film because the film keeps jumping in all directions and Jarecki keeps throwing shocking tidbits of information at you. There is one curve ball after another which leaves us with so many questions lurking in our minds that it is very hard to figure out if Arnold Friedman was really innocent or not. However the film itself is very well crafted and Jarecki was able to weave a unified story from all those interviews and family footage.


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