Capturing the Friedmans

Documentary Film by Andrew Jarecki.
Running Time: 107 mins

The Friedmans seemed to be a typical American family, especially with their love of capturing all their memories on film and then on video. The film builds up a portrait of Arnold the musician and teacher father, Elaine his strong-minded wife and their three sons. Suddenly, their word was overturned as Arnold and his youngest son, Jesse, were arrested for child molestation, charged with both of them eventually going to jail.

Andrew Jarusick became interested in their story, doing investigative research about the case. The eldest son, David, told him about the hours of footage he had. A documentary using this footage, using television news material from the time of the trial and contemporary interviews emerged.

The material has been edited together so that the audience sees the chronology of Arnold's life, marriage and family, hears the testimony of the principal people involved (especially Elaine, David and Jesse as well as detectives, the judge, lawyers, victims and their parents), sees the footage of how the family behaved at the time of the trial (bizarre, frantic and hostile). The director also makes it hard to know what the actual truth is. One piece of the film, one interview, points in a particular direction of guilt, then another piece throws doubt on what has been said. The evidence for the accusation was testimony rather than physical evidence and this raises difficulties concerning police leading witnesses, false memories, lies and self-defensiveness.

This means that the audience has a great deal to absorb, is continually challenged to try to understand the characters, while being horrified at the charges and the implications about paedophilia. It is both gruelling and challenging.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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