Capturing the Friedmans

Director: Andrew Jarecki.

Topic: Searing account, using a mix of interview and home-video footage, of a family in crisis as allegations of sexual misconduct tear it apart in the late 1980s.

Financier: A mix of private investors who contributed money and equipment over 3½ years. After its premiere at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, HBO Films put money into the film, which helped enable its theatrical release .

Budget: Expenses were spread out over several years and an exact overall figure was not provided.

Shooting format: Super 16mm

Why it made the list: Its subject matter, the allegation of child molestation in a tight-knit American suburb; and its extraordinary sense of access and intimacy, created partly by the discovery and use of homevideos shot by the subjects themselves throughout their ordeal.

Memorable scene: The Friedmans’ youngest son Jesse’s last night before going to jail for 13 years. His two older brothers stay up all night with him, knowing their lives and relationship to their sibling will completely change when the morning comes.

Distribution/broadcast status: Magnolia Pictures released theatrically in L.A. and New York in June. HBO to air sometime in the second half of 2004.

Box office: $3.1 million

On making the film: “This film is for me a family story as opposed to a crime story,” says Jarecki. “It’s a very intimate portrait of a family in distress. When we first meet the Friedmans they are seemingly perfectly normal and then moments later their front door explodes, shattered by a police battering ram, and their lives change forever.

“I started out making a completely different film, about professional children’s party clowns in New York City. It was by accident that we came upon this story, but I think that often happens with a documentary. You start out thinking your film is about one thing and it turns out to be something else entirely.

“It became obvious to me that different members of the Friedmans had their own desire to tell their part of the story. The family had been treated really terribly in the media. I set out to understand them and to sort of rehumanize them.

“Although at the time I had no clue about their guilt or innocence, I felt we wouldn’t learn anything if we didn’t see them first as people.

“It was pretty shocking to realize how much they had filmed on homevideo cameras themselves. From the first footage we saw, we knew it was going to be a very different film, because it was going to get so close to these events and so close to this family.

“Once you start delving into this story, there’s no turning away from it, because it’s so intensely emotional, and that’s the thing that drew me to it — a deep emotional connection to the story and the characters in it.”

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