Andrew Jareck - Capturing the Friedmans

Andrew Jareck - Capturing the Friedmans

Capturing the Friedmans Exclusive Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.

Andrew Jarecki could not have been more surprised when his riveting, complex and unsettling documentary Capturing the Friedmans was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year. Talking from his New York office, the director says that he was "gratified that a film that tackles these issues was embraced by the Academy." This searing documentary revolves around Arnold Friedman, who led a seemingly model existence. A Jewish family man, he had three teenage sons and was a prize-winning teacher at his local high school. He had a middle-class, educated existence and, as an avid fan of personal computing, gave extra-curricular lessons in his home basement. But his family's life was shattered in 1987 when Arthur was charged with possession of child pornography. Local rumours turned into accusation and Arthur was subsequently accused of hundreds of acts of indecency against boys in his care. What's more, his son Jesse was also accused of the same crime. When the case came to court both pled guilty and received hefty sentences. But that's not the end of the story, or as simple as it sounds. Deeply disturbing and complex, Jarecki, whose film won the Grand Jury prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival, expresses surprise that Capturing the Friedmans has been as successful in the US as it has. "I was really happy to see, obviously, how it did in New York and I went to every there where we all did a Q & A afterwards. I felt like it was important for us to be there and to give people the chance to express themselves and I also thought I might run into some people that might interest me, those people who had been involved in the case, or whatever, would come, because they do."

Originally, Jarecki set about making a film about, of all things, clowns. The Friedmans' tale came about as an off-shoot of that initial project. "Initially, it probably had to do with when I was 12 years old. I was a magician, and to make money when I wasn't in school I would do birthday parties. We used to have a trick where we'd turn a big bowl of sugar into a big bowl of candy. When I was 13, I graduated from that and started to play sport and when I got older and had kids of my own, I'd take them to birthday parties. And there were the people who kept doing it -- the magic. And I thought, who are these adults who live among children? And, you know, they call each other, like, Marcia the Moose and they all hang out with Professor Putter. I thought If I start hunting, here I will find an interesting story." That story became David Friedman, he explains. "I had been to a number of parties where he was there and felt he's in a class by himself, just because he mainly focuses on the high-end market -- the celebrities or Park Avenue moms. Obviously, the movie has just come out. He's in the process of trying to evaluate what affect it's going to have. He did the film for the right reason -- he wanted to do something positive for Jesse. Jesse had an incredibly tough time and tough life." It was David who provided the family tapes to Jarecki "because he felt like telling his family's story in a more complete way or fair way."

In many ways, Jarecki uses his audience as a kind of additional juror, weaving together evidence and somehow attempting to make us understand these events without adding a value judgement to the mix. "The stakes are very, very high here. It's not a story about somebody in the Civil War but this human being, Jesse, who's been engaged in tremendous amount of turmoil in the last 15 years of his life, who went to jail at 18 and for crimes when was 13, 14, 16 years old. Eventually, after he got out of prison, he's labelled a level three sex offender.Combine all that with the fact there was no trial and then you get home video footage of much of the family's actions. The audience then has to decide who they believe." While there has been much positive good to come out of the film, the director does concede that he felt a tad guilty for prying into this fractured family's lives. "I think you can't make something like this without having guilt. I got myself an ethics adviser and felt like I needed somebody to talk to. Does this look humane? Is it fair? I visited him for a day and he said a couple of things that helped me. Mostly, it was that by just sitting here and asking, he said, you are already going to be responsible, which was liberating. And, secondly, he said, 'Even though you are right that this could have negative impact on David's career, you might find stuff to be good for Jesse. . . . You have to broaden your mind a little bit to see who this is for.' In reality, I felt close to this family. There's no objectifying them. Jesse became somebody I'd like to help."

Jarecki says that there was so much missing from his theatrical cut of the film that he decided to spend additional time working on the DVD, which has just hit shelves in the US. "The DVD for this movie is going to be so different. It's not going to be the director's commentary on the performance of Matt Damon or something like that. There was a five and a half hour cut of the movie at one point and it was totally fascinating. I just tell you if you're into this material, it didn't get boring or the story didn't peter but stayed really interesting." Jarecki hopes to finally put this tortured family to rest and head in a different direction, not discounting a segue into narrative features. In whatever direction he finds himself, Andrew Jarecki is a director to watch.

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