Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

capturing the friedmans poster 2007 movie documentary
9.5 Overall Score

Amazing documentary of a family's private and public destruction

Always some subjectivism in a doumentary

Movie Info

Movie Name: Capturing the Friedmans

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Genre(s): Documentary

Release Date(s): May 30, 2003

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

capturing the friedmans family picture seth david jesse arnold

They are odd…but that in itself isn’t a crime

The Friedmans appear to be a happy family. The father Arnold is a popular teacher, and he and his wife Elaine live in the affluent Long Island town of Great Neck with their three children David, Seth, and Jesse Friedman. When federal agents enter the Friedman’s home looking for child pornography, the Friedmans’ lives crumble. The secrets of the families are exposed as Arnold and Jesse are accused of multiple charges of sodomy and sexual abuse in the small community.  Instead of hiding, the Friedman children pull out their camera to film the whole experience. Who is guilty and who is innocent?

Directed by Andrew Jarecki, Capturing the Friedmans is a true crime documentary.  The film is largely composed of home videos and recordings of the family spliced with interviews.  The movie was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2003.

capturing the friedmans arnold friedman arrested molestation

A community shocked

Capturing the Friedmans was one of those breakout documentaries that happened just at the right time.  Ten years later, Capturing the Friedmans would have been a five episode Netflix series with little fanfare (but buzz when it was released).  The movie instead performed well in theaters which is not always the case for documentaries.

The fact that most of the footage in this documentary exists is part of the strange thing of the documentary.  In found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, you have to question why the characters would keep filming despite everything going on.  Capturing the Friedmans is an example of where they do keep filming through really, really strange situations.  If your family is falling apart, do you want it on tape?  It is explained by the family that it is just how the family was and that they saw it as something they could look back on and laugh…ok, that just shows how strange of family they are…and that isn’t a knock against people with strange sense of humors).  The Friedmans are truly odd.

capturing the friedmans jesse friedman arrested

Did he join in?

The real question that viewers take away from the movie is if Arnold or Jesse Friedman are guilty. Some of the pro (and anti) Friedman testimony is so unbelievable that I can’t see how police fell for it.  Some of the people on Jesse and Arnold’s side (including David Friedman) seem so blind to what their father’s role was in the whole situation.  When confronted with a statement from the father that he did cross the line with children at a vacation home, David can’t fathom or believe it.  On the anti-side, the kid who claims that Friedman waved a knife at the class and threatened him is so unbelievable that it is insane.  Near the end of the movie, Jesse tells his attorney that his father molested him and that he participated in some molestation of students.  Not in the film is that he also told this to Geraldo in 1989 also…putting more credit that it did happen and that it wasn’t all made up by his attorney.

capturing the friedmans last night of freedom arnold friedman

What do you do on your last night of freedom? Make weird home movies of course…

I am on the side that yes, Arnold Friedman did molest children.  I don’t know about his son, and I highly doubt there was a “group” molestation that is claimed to have occurred in the class.  I believe him when he says he did cross the line with another child.  Was a child molested from the class?  There is a good chance that it happened, but I can’t imagine (as stated in the movie) that the massive classroom participation in sex acts occurred.  There were mistakes made on both the Friedmans part and the part of the law.  The director faced criticism for his bias and exclusion of certain evidence and information, but it is a documentary and doesn’t have to be objective if the director chooses.

Capturing the Friedmans is one of the more interesting and thought provoking documentaries that you can watch.  It is worth seeing multiple times in that you can see different perspectives, and your view of the case can change.  As the years pass, people do catch up with the Friedmans and see where they stand and you can find updates online.  One thing is for certain, the Friedmans are a different family, and the fact they let people into their home is as strange as the case.


Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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