Documentary on the Friedmans, a seemingly typical, upper-middleclass Jewish family whose world is instantly transformed when the father and his youngest son are arrested and charged with shocking and horrible crimes.
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In the late 1980's, the Friedmans - father and respected computer and music teacher Arnold Friedman, mother and housewife Elaine Friedman, and their three grown sons, David Friedman, Seth Friedman and Jesse Friedman - of Great Neck, Long Island, are seemingly your typical middle class American family. They all admit that the marriage was by no means close to being harmonious - Arnold and Elaine eventually got divorced - but the sons talk of their father, while also not being always there for them, as being a good man. This façade of respectability masks the fact that Arnold was buying and distributing child pornography. Following a sting operation to confirm this fact, the authorities began to investigate Arnold for sexual abuse of the minor-aged male students of his computer classes, which he held in the basement of the family home. Based on interviews with the students, not only was Arnold charged with and ultimately convicted of multiple counts of sodomy and sexual abuse of these ... Written by
Just one of the many outstanding documentaries of 2003, `Capturing the Friedmans' is a riveting, depressing and ultimately quite frustrating account of a pedophile and the effect he has on his community and family.
In 1984, Arnold Friedman, a highly respected husband, parent and teacher living with his wife and three sons in an affluent suburb of northern Long Island, was arrested on more than a hundred charges of child molestation, purportedly committed while he and his youngest son, Jesse, were running a computer class (for boys only apparently) out of the family's home. Jesse, 18 at the time, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sodomy as well. `Capturing the Friedmans' looks back not only at the trial and the circumstances surrounding it, but attempts to come to grips with how all of this affected each of the family members and the community at large. By combining present day interviews featuring several of the family members as well as some of the law enforcement officials involved in the case with glimpses of the family's life caught on film and videotape both before and after the arrest, director Andrew Jarecki creates a fascinating view of a family and a community torn asunder by crisis. We witness how each member of the family reacts to the situation. The older sons close ranks and remain faithful to their father while the mother attempts to distance herself from the crisis at hand. We see the denial and the enabling that are common in situations such as this one, as well as the way in which deep-seated and hitherto hidden feelings of anger and resentment can suddenly break forth and rise to the surface. Because the Friedmans' sons were obsessed with videotaping the events of their lives, the filmmakers had a plethora of highly revealing clips to choose from in weaving their grim but insightful tapestry.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of `Capturing the Friedmans' is that, even though the filmmakers acknowledge Arnold to be a pedophile, they obviously have grave doubts that the crimes for which he and his son were ultimately convicted ever really occurred. And, indeed, the scope, elaborateness and longevity of the alleged sexual abuse and the lack of prior reporting by any of the children who were the alleged victims do raise some troubling questions of credibility and plausibility in the viewer's mind. In fact, this whole case has eerie and disturbing echoes of the highly publicized McMartin Preschool trial, which was happening at roughly the same time. Even the people the filmmakers interview often contradict one another, leaving the audience not knowing who is telling the truth and who is lying either deliberately or, perhaps, subconsciously. It is this air of inconclusiveness that accounts for the viewer's feeling of frustration at the end. Although the moviemakers' sympathies seem to lie more with the family than with the court, we can't help thinking that maybe no one is really telling the whole truth and that perhaps the reality, as is so often the case in life, lies somewhere in between.
If nothing else, `Capturing the Friedmans' serves as a reminder of just how messy and complicated an issue child molestation can be. With emotions running so high on both sides of the issue and the consequences so devastating for all the parties involved, the film at least shows that convictions in such cases must be pursued with the utmost rationality, rigor and care.
Whatever the truth in this case may be, the fact remains, though, that Arnold Friedman's actions led to the disintegration of a family and an undeniable human tragedy.
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