A film by Andrew Jarecki

This documentary was not what I had expected. I knew that this was a documentary about a family who had been accused of sexually abusing children. That was all I knew about this film, and my expectations were only that this was going to be a difficult film to watch. The structure and the family dynamic were not at all what I expected.

This is the story of the Friedman family, a well to do family living in Great Neck, New York (on Long Island). The family seems to have this compulsive need to videotape everything, so there are snips of their everyday lives on home video, as well as video diaries and interviews they have done with each other. This feels strange, as if something is not right, and then we move into what is not right. Because of the nature of some magazines owned by Arnold (the father) and caught by the police in a sting operation, the police had been investigating what sort of other abuses Arnold might be perpetrating against children. They found evidence and the police went after Arnold. The family saga doesn t stop here, however, because the youngest son, Jesse, is also implicated in the abuse and he is also arrested.

What is fascinating here (and troubling) are both the family dynamic and the question of guilt. To say that the Friedmans have a dysfunctional relationship is an understatement, and the home videos they have shot illustrate this perfectly. There is always a camera on, and it is not the film director, but rather the Friedmans documenting their lives. Nobody seems to be completely well adjusted, and I m just not sure how much honesty and support I was really seeing inside the family.

The other fascinating (and troubling) thing was the question of guilt. The family, of course, initially starts out by admitting no guilt, but as the movie goes on, we see that perhaps that is not entirely true. The police are working with evidence, so there must be something to be guilty of. The lawyer says that Jesse said one thing, Jesse claims another, the judge is starting with her own assumption, and of course the public believes they are all guilty. But somewhere along the line the actual facts start getting muddled and stories change, new revelations from the key players are brought to light, and what started as a case of black and white has suddenly become very gray.

Capturing the Friedmans is a very interesting, well made documentary. When it was over, however, I had more questions than understanding of what actually happened and who is guilty of what. Perhaps that was the point of the film, but while the family gets a small semblance of resolution, the viewer never does.