Capturing The Friedmans


Directed by: Andrew Jarecki
Released: April 1, 2004
Grade: A

Robert DeNiro said it best at the 2000 Academy Awards – “Making a documentary feature is the cinematic equivalent of jumping out of a plane.  You start with no script, no actors, and hope that when you pull the shoot, the camera finds its drama.”  For as long as I can recall, documentaries have been a heavily underappreciated art form in the world of cinema.  You’ll catch them when flicking through cable television channels late at night but seldom will you see them on a big screen.  2003 proved a turning point however and the box-office success of Bowling For Columbine and Spellbound has seen documentaries thrust into the spotlight.  The trend looks set to continue this year and I couldn’t be happier having seen the latest Academy Award nominated documentary, Capturing The Friedmans.

In June 1987, police obtained a search warrant for the home of 57-year-old Arnold Friedman.  They believed Friedman had been purchasing child pornography magazines from overseas and during their search found a very large stash in his study.  The police also knew that Friedman taught a computer class to neighbourhood boys out of his basement and also from the search, they obtained a listing of students.  Given their discovery, authorities now suspected that Arnold Friedman had molested some of these young boys.  They immediately went to the homes of these students and from their testimony, laid numerous charges against Arnold and further charges against his son, Jesse Friedman, who was believed to have participated in the acts of sexual abuse.

You may think this is an open and shut look at the horrors of child paedophilia but think again.  This sensational documentary exposes an abundance of problems in today’s society which are too easily swept under the carpet.

The most obvious issue and one close to my heart is that of “hysteria”.  We are too easily consumed today by the media and its sensationalism of a story.  Just look at the recent Canterbury Bulldogs scandal which has been littering front and back of every newspaper in the country.  No charges have been laid, no investigate is complete and yet everyone feels compelled to add their “two cents” as if they know all the answers.  In the Friedman case, the media labelled both Arnold and Jesse as “monsters” and to everyone in the community they were guilty before being proved innocent.

I will let you judge for yourself but Andrew Jarecki’s documentary provides very persuasive evidence as to their innocence.  Since the film’s release, even more alleged “victims” have come forward to say that detectives pressured them to give false evidence.  There’s even a tape of one detective threatening a boy that he could become a homosexual if he did not admit to the abuse.  Is the Friedman case an isolated incident in today’s world?  Something deep down makes me think not and this is of concern.

Andrew Jarecki’s technique uses current day interviews with family members and key individuals mixed with actual footage from the time.  This footage was filmed by another Friedman brother with his home movie camera so we get to see the arguments and disintegration within the family as it happens.  There best of this footage is a montage put together of Jesse in his final 24 hours before going to his bail hearing.

Jarecki’s film also looks at the insanely unethical issue of plea bargaining and the common misconception of a “dysfunctional” family.  Not since the abovementioned Bowling For Columbine will a film promote so much positive discussion on thought-provoking matters.  I have deliberately concealed the results of the trial and its aftermath to maintain the element of surprise for those yet to see it.

The dvd for the film (already released in the United States) features hours more footage on this captivating story.  I strongly urge you not to wait for its release but instead to find a cinema where Capturing The Friedmans is showing and treat yourself to one of the most important films 2004 has to offer.