Directed by Andrew Jarecki (who also produced Catfish), Capturing the Friedmans is an extraordinary documentary uses a combination of home video and contemporary interviews to recount the tale of the Friedmans – a middle class suburban New York family torn apart by a child abuse scandal involving the father and youngest son.
At face value, Arnold Friedman would have been considered a pillar of the community – a respected school teacher and father of three boys seemingly enjoying the American dream, one would never suspect what may go on behind closed doors. That is until one day, following the interception of a paedophilic magazine sent by mail from Denmark, the police raided the Friedman house and their lives were turned upside down.
Outside of school hours, Arnold would run a computer club for young boys assisted by his youngest son, Jesse. Following the police raid, local families were interviewed about the computer club and claims began to emerge of abuse by Arnold and Jesse.
Capturing the Friedmans at first seems like an open and shut case, but expertly evolves as the film goes on and shreds of doubt begin to emerge as witness testimony struggles to bear out against photos, video and other interviews which are often at odds with one another. Whilst never leading you down one path or another, and never portraying the testimonies as a conspiracy, Jarecki does an excellent job of leaving you wondering exactly where the truth lies without ever hitting you over the head with his own point of view.
By the end, when all the ‘evidence’ is laid out and the fates of the protagonists is known, it is left to the viewer to decide whether justice has been served. Even with the extraordinary home movies to work with (another son happened to be a Spielberg in the making at the time), it is never quite clear what actually occurred and who really is to blame. I mean surely one of the kids would have either said something or shown some sort of distress if these things had really happened, right? Why did it take a police raid followed by some perhaps coercive interviews to reveal all the skeletons in the Friedman closet?
Capturing the Friedmans is perhaps the most balanced documentary I can recall which is impressive given the emotive central subject and this is its greatest triumph.