Preview by: Jack Foley
TWO films became the talk of this year's Sundance Film Festival
- the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner, American Splendor, and
the best documentary, Capturing the Friedmans.
The latter tells the infamous story of Arnold Friedman and his
son, Jesse, then 19, who pleaded guilty to several counts of pedophilia
Arnold has since died in prison, but Jesse has been released,
and is considered a level 3 sex offender under Megan's Law.
Jesse is required to wear a plastic monitoring device at all
times and cannot leave the island of Manhattan.
He is also forbidden from living in a building where there are
children or go places where children can be found.
According to director, Andrew Jarecki, in an interview with CNN,
the film is more about the effects of the situation on the family,
than it is an out and out tale about paedophilia.
Ironically, however, the film was never to have been about either
Jarecki's original idea for his first feature was a documentary
on New York City birthday clowns, but while researching the subject,
he learned that one of his subjects, David Friedman, had a complicated
and disturbing story to tell - that of his father and younger
Jarecki was intrigued by the story, particularly as both Jesse
and Arnold consistently denied the charges, and, using portions
of the family's home movies and interviews with the Friedmans,
their relatives, and other participants in their lives, he pieced
together a 107-minute film.
The ensuing project took two and a half years to complete, so
that a balanced story was presented, which, according to the director,
offers no easy answers and leaves it up to audiences to decide
where the truth lies.
Jarecki, himself, states that there should have been a trial
(Jesse and Arnold cut a deal, eventually), particularly given
evidence which does seem to cast doubts over the relevance of
the police's case against them.
But whether audiences believe the family members were guilty
or not, the film certainly seems to have struck as big a chord
with the critics, as it did with the Sundance judges.
The word on this one was universally positive, with many echoing
the sentiments of the Sundance panel in describing it as one of
the best documentaries in ages.
Newsday leads the way, stating that 'Jarecki has taken
an impossible subject, and subjects, and made a movie that works
as crime thriller, social document and, occasionally, surrealist
While Variety stated that it is 'an incredibly tough,
uncompromising piece that showcases a densely perverse world and
doesn't easily let go'.
Entertainment Weekly awarded it a straight A and wrote
that it 'may be the most haunting documentary since Crumb', while
E! Online also awarded it the maximum A and predicted that
it 'will definitely get your undivided attention'.
The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, stated that 'it's hard
to imagine a more troubling or perplexing documentary than Capturing
And the New York Daily News felt that 'this extraordinary
film refracts truth through the prism of memory, until what you
get is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, full of sacrifice
USA Today opined that 'not since Memento
has a movie served up such a provocative mind-bender, and the
Sundance winner by first-time filmmaker Andrew Jarecki has the
advantage of being true'.
While Village Voice's critic wrote that 'I've seen only
a few films in my lifetime that so potently express the golden
hopes of childhood and parenthood'.
The San Francisco Chronicle continued the positive vibe,
stating that 'it leaves us puzzling, long after the film has ended,
about the Friedmans' strange family dynamics, about the justice
system and community that condemned them, about the elusive nature
The Washington Post added that 'Jarecki has created a
tour de force of narrative ambiguity, and in doing so has made
one of the most honest reality shows ever'.
While Rolling Stone predicted that 'this movie will pin
you to your seat'.
And the final three words go to the Big Apple's critics, with
the New York Post describing it as 'a remarkable and shattering
documentary'; the New York Times stating that it is an
'engagingly evenhanded and intelligently assembled first feature';
and, finally, the New York Observer concluding that 'it's
fascinating because you've never seen a more dysfunctional family
in broad daylight, and it's disturbing because it straddles the
fine line between responsible filmmaking and callous sensationalism'.