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Award winning teacher Arnold Friedman and his wife Elaine raised three sons (Jesse, David, Seth) in the affluent Long Island suburb of Great Neck. On the eve of Thanksgiving 1987, when Jesse was 18, police raided the quiet home with a search warrant, looking for child pornography. In the convoluted investigation that followed, Arnold and Jesse were both charged with sexually abusing several 8 and 10 year old boys who came to Arnold's computer classes in his basement office over a four year period. The police relied solely on the statements of the deposed children of the local community and had no physical evidence. The Friedman family claimed their innocence, but began to disintegrate. Yet they made a home video recording these tumultuous times

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Half way through Capturing the Friedmans, it occurred to me that I was actually watching a unique, well constructed and satirical mockumentary. This story is so bizarre and so preposterous on several levels that I wish I was right. Sadly, it's all true. Well, true in that it isn't a mock doco, but a real doco - but truth is in fact what this story really explores through the experiences of this family. Truth as water, that is.

As the film unfolds, we are thrown mercilessly from the red corner to the blue corner. One minute we register shock at the flimsy nature of the evidence which is used to bring Arnold and Jesse to court, and the next we're questioning their claims of innocence. Meanwhile, we're also being skittled sideways by the nature of the family's internal relationships. In emotional terms, the film is like the craziest wild ride at a fun fair.

And in the process, we begin to question everything we imagined as firm about our memories and truth and the view we have of other people. On one level, the film damns America's justice system; the style of the investigation bullied the kids into answers the police wanted. And Judge Abby Boklan had no compunction about the guilt of the accused, despite the lack of solid evidence. On the other hand, there is a small fire which gave rise to the smoke . . .

In terms of the filmmaking crafts, Capturing the Freidmans is not flawless, bit its subject matter excuses its structural flaws and its trite passage near the end where we see nostalgia-soaked home video footage of the boys as kids on swings, played in slo-mo under cloying music. It's a short sequence that adds only an unnecessary package of sentimentality to the film at that point and I wish it had been left out, but it doesn't mar the film's enormous impact. The impact comes from both the nature of the criminal investigation and its results, but also from the drama of the family's journey in unchartered emotional waters.

The two-disc DVD set adds several chapters, and shows that real life is much more complicated than fiction. In the section called The Discussion, there are heated discussions after the film's TriBeCa film festival premiere in New York at a 10 minute Q&A session that highlights this. This is more likely to be of interest to professionals involved in law, sex crimes and the specific case. And documentarians. Of course this piece also shows the natural eloquence and fluid communications skills of New Yorkers.

At another premiere, a judge speaks out, claiming the film leaves out many things that show the two Friedmans being guilty. This is heated, too.

Of greater interest to social workers and psychologists, perhaps, is the totally frank home video of Jesse's last night at home. This is one of three tapes not seen in the film. Further details of the case and a family album are also included.

For somewhat light relief, the recording of the music in Rome with composer Andrea Morricone ends the special features, an 8-minute piece that includes an interview with the composer.

On Disc 1, there is a commentary with director Andrew Jarecki and editor/co-producer Richard Hankin, which takes us deeper into the subject, with minute details that further deepen the insight into this otherwise ordinary family with an extraordinary story.

A remarkable package, considering the sensitive subject, made more so by the fact that the participants tell the story themselves.

Published October 28, 2004

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CAST: Documentary with Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, David Friedman, Seth Friedman, Jesse Friedman, Howard Friedman, John McDermott, Det. Frances Galasso, Joseph Onorato, Judd Maltin, Abbey Boklan

DIRECTOR: Andrew Jarecki

SCRIPT: Andrew Jarecki

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: Commentary with director Andrew Jarecki and editor/co-producer Richard Hankin; Disc 2: 'The Discussion' (a set of video montages of public discussions held at the film's premiere at various film festivals); 'Unseen home videos' - three Friedman home videos not included in the film; 'The Case' - deleted scenes; 'Our Family - previously unseen video clips, including recent developments in the case; 'The Score' - featurette on composer Andrea Morricone; DVD Rom features.


DVD RELEASE: October 6, 2004

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