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Capturing the Friedmans

DVD cover
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Produced by Andrew Jarecki
Marc Smerling
Starring Arnold Friedman
Elaine Friedman
David Friedman
Seth Friedman
Jesse Friedman
Music by Bill Harrington
Andrea Morricone
Cinematography Adolfo Doring
Editing by Richard Hankin
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
Release date(s) May 30, 2003
Running time 107 min.
Language English

Capturing the Friedmans is a documentary film directed by Andrew Jarecki. It focuses on the 1980s investigation of Arnold and Jesse Friedman for child molestation. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2003.[1] However some of the Friedmans' alleged victims and family members wrote to the Awards Committee protesting the nomination, their identities confirmed but protected by the judge who presided over the court case.



Jarecki initially was going to make a film about children's birthday party entertainers in New York, including the popular clown David Friedman.

During his research, Jarecki learned that David Friedman's brother, Jesse, and his father, Arnold, had been convicted of child sexual abuse. Jarecki interviewed many of the children involved and ended up making a film about the Friedmans themselves.


The investigation into Arnold Friedman's life started after a federal sting operation when he received a magazine of child pornography from the Netherlands by mail. In searching his Great Neck, New York home, investigators found a large collection of child pornography. After learning that Friedman taught children computer classes from his home, local police began to suspect him of abusing his students.

In police interviews, some of the children Friedman taught stated Friedman played bizarre sex games with them during their computer classes. Jarecki interviewed some of these children himself; some stated that they had been in the room with other children alleging abuse, and that nothing had happened. The film portrayed police investigative procedures as the genesis of a "witch-hunt" in the Friedmans' community.

The Friedmans took home videos while Arnold Friedman (and, later, his son Jesse) awaited trial. They were allowed to stay at home in order to prepare for court. The pictures were not made with publishing in mind, but as a way to record what was happening in their lives. The movie shows much of this footage; family dinners, conversations and arguments. Arnold's wife eventually advised her husband to confess and protect their son.

Arnold Friedman pleaded guilty to multiple charges of sodomy and sexual abuse. According to the Friedman family, he confessed in the hopes that his son would be spared prison time. Jesse Friedman later confessed as well, but now claims he did so to avoid being sent to prison for life. He said in mitigation that his father had molested him. Arnold Friedman admitted to being a pedophile, and to molesting two boys, but not those who attended his computer classes. He is also quoted as admitting that, when he was 13, he had sex with his younger brother, Howard, who was 8 years old; Howard Friedman has said he does not recall this. In addition, Peter Panaro, the lawyer for Jesse Friedman, stated that Jesse had admitted to him that he was sexually assaulted by his father as a child. He also stated that Jesse had in fact admitted to him that he had sodomized 14 boys. Jesse denies telling the lawyer this and states that the lawyer told him to plead guilty and blame his father.

Although not included in the film, in a 1989 interview with Geraldo Rivera in prison, Jesse said he was sexually abused by his father and apparently confesses to abusing children himself. [2] He has since recanted these statements, saying that his lawyer advised him to make them because it would help his appeal case.

Arnold Friedman died in prison in 1995, leaving a $250,000 life insurance benefit to his son. Jesse Friedman was released from prison in 2001 after serving 13 years of his sentence.

Not mentioned in the film is that Jesse Friedman appealed his conviction;[3] a federal judge rejected two out of three motions of Jesse Friedman’s appeal. The third motion was dismissed in January 2008. [4]


The film received extremely positive reviews, with the review tallying website reporting that 139 out of the 143 reviews they tallied were positive for a score of 97 percent and a certification of "fresh".[5] The film was ranked as the 7th best reviewed movie of 2003 on the website's best of the year list.[6] The low-budget documentary was a success with audiences as well grossing over $3 million in theaters, making it a surprise hit.[7] In terms of individual reviews Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Jarecki so recognizes the archetypal figures in the Friedman home that he knows to push things any further through heavy-handed assessment would be redundant." He praised Jarecki for operating under the premise "that first impressions can't be trusted and that truth rests with each person telling the story."[8] Washington Post columnist Desson Howe offered similar praise, writing, "It's testament to Jarecki's superbly wrought film that everyone seems to be, simultaneously, morally suspect and strikingly innocent as they relate their stories and assertions...This is a film about the quagmire of mystery in every human soul."[9] Similarly, Roger Ebert wrote, "The film is as an instructive lesson about the elusiveness of facts, especially in a legal context. Sometimes guilt and innocence are discovered in court, but sometimes, we gather, only truths about the law are demonstrated."[10] The film won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for 2003.[10]

In one of the few negative reviews, Los Angeles Times writer Kenneth Turan wrote a critique of both the film and Jarecki stating, "Jarecki's pose of impartiality gets especially troublesome for audiences when it enables him to evade responsibility for dealing with the complexities of his material."[11]

Criticism intensified as Jarecki's role in deliberately choosing not to pursue his firm belief in the Friedmans' innocence became publicly known. In his review, Ebert had recounted Jarecki's statement at the Sundance Film Festival that he did not know whether Arnold and Jesse Friedman were guilty of child molestation. Ebert roundly praised Jarecki for communicating this ambiguity,[10] but subsequent scrutiny revealed that Jarecki in fact had stated repeatedly that he firmly believed in their innocence before learning of the artistic expedience of claiming otherwise. In addition it has since emerged that Jarecki funded Jesse Friedman's appeal.[12] Writing for The Village Voice, Debbie Nathan — who was hired by Jarecki to appear in the film — wrote of Jarecki, "Polling viewers at Sundance in January, he was struck by how they were split over Arnold and Jesse's guilt. Since then, he's crafted a marketing strategy based on ambiguity, and during Q&As and interviews, he has studiously avoided taking a stand."[13]

See also


  1. ^ "Capturing the Friedmans". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23.  
  2. ^ "Busting the Kiddie Porn Underground". Geraldo. 1989-02-23.
  3. ^ Friedman Memoradum of Law
  4. ^ "Subject of 'Friedman' Film Loses Appeal" (in English). San Francisco Chronicle. January 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-14.  
  5. ^, Capturing the Friedmans entry, accessed February 12, 2007
  6. ^, Best of 2003, accessed February 12, 2007
  7. ^, Business data for Capturing the Friedmans, accessed February 12, 2007
  8. ^ "The New York Times." Capturing the Friedmans, May 30, 2003, accessed February 12, 2007
  9. ^ "The Washington Post." The Friedmans' Tale of the Tapes, Friday, June 13, 2003; Page WE33
  10. ^ a b c, Capturing the Friedmans review, June 6, 2003
  11. ^ "The Los Angeles Times." MOVIE REVIEW 'Capturing the Friedmans', June 13, 2003
  12. ^ Vitello, P (2004-01-11). "Documentary's Haunting Tale of Abuse: Open letter to Friedman's victims". Newsday. Retrieved 2009-09-18.  
  13. ^ Nathan, D (2003-05-26). Complex Persecution "Complex Persecution: A Long Island Family's Nightmare Struggle With Porn, Pedophilia, and Public Hysteria". The Village Voice.,nathan,44228,1.html Complex Persecution. Retrieved 2009-09-18.  

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