Capturing the Friedmans

There are heartaches in dream homes and then there's "Capturing the Friedmans." Did teacher and father Arnold Friedman systematically molest young boys? Was his son Jesse complicit in these acts? Was the case handled properly by law enforcement? By the Friedman family? The DVD sets out to answer these questions.

There are heartaches in dream homes and then there’s “Capturing the Friedmans.” Did teacher and father Arnold Friedman systematically molest young boys during basement computer classes in Great Neck., Long Island? Was his youngest, teenaged son Jesse complicit in these acts? Was the case handled properly by law enforcement and the judicial system? By the Friedman family? The DVD sets out to answer these questions, but the case remains an archetype of ambiguity.

Vowing a DVD “customized to the audience,” helmer Andrew Jarecki and original production team have filled an extra disc with over two hours of what he calls “32 individual short films, each fully edited and scored, and designed to focus on a specific direction or issue of interest to people who saw the film.” Thus, there is more home-movie footage, additional details on investigative methodology, further background on individual family members, and key document files accessible via DVD-ROM drives.

One highlight of the new material is “Just a Clown,” the original 20-minute profile of reigning Manhattan kiddie entertainer David Friedman which led the filmmakers to the family’s darker secrets. There are nearly 10 confrontational minutes of a New York post-screening discussion — coincidentally attended by most of the principals on both sides of the issue. Hints of additional alleged suspects are dropped, though they never made it into the feature.

A diplomatic commentary track by Jarecki and editor/co-producer Richard Hankin concludes with Jarecki predicting the story “is going to get a lot more complicated.” That refers, no doubt, to Jesse’s renewed legal battle to overturn his conviction based on what he recently cited as “the tremendous amount of exonerating material” uncovered by filmmakers.

As strong as this set is, clear-cut conclusions remain tantalizingly, maddeningly elusive.

Capturing the Friedmans

Production: An HBO Video release of the 2003 HBO Documentary Films presentation of the Magnolia Pictures release of the Hit the Ground Running Films production. Produced by Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling. Directed by Jarecki. (Release: Jan. 27)

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