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Capturing The Friedmans

director: Andrew Jarecki

103 minutes (15) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
The Friedmans are an ordinary Long Island family: dad Arnie gives kids' computer classes in the basement (apparently to avoid spending time with Mom), and the three grown-up sons spend their time videoing family events for fun. Then the police raid the house and uncover a stash of child pornography, and the apparently happy children attending the classes begin to allege that they've been abused. First Arnie's name comes up, then youngest son Jesse's, as the list of charges spirals out of control.

Preparations for the trial split family down the middle, demonising Mom and exposing all kinds of allegations and family secrets. The allegations of repeated group abuse seem wildly implausible - but what about the porn? Confessions are signed - but for what reason? And throughout it all, eldest son David videos every family argument, finally handing the footage to director Jarecki, who added extensive interviews with the main players and fashioned it into this documentary...

Capturing The Friedmans is an extraordinary film. Allegations fly here and there, revelations come to the surface and are denied, conflicting evidence assails you from all directions. On the evidence presented here, I defy anyone to be sure what, if anything, actually happened in those classes. By the end, the only thing you'll be sure of is that the Friedmans are a seriously dysfunctional group of people caught up in the current climate of child-abuse hysteria (which doesn't necessarily mean they're innocent).

A powerful look at what can lurk under the surface of ordinary family life, Capturing The Friedmans is a well-structured, constantly surprising documentary: not a comfortable story by any means, but it has the irresistible fascination of an emotional 12 car pile-up.

The extras in the two-disc DVD package are extensive and excellent: Q&A sessions, interviews, uncut footage of the alleged victims' testimonies, additional family home movies, as well as the usual commentary and a director interview. (Though the promised 'altercation' between law enforcement officials at a post-premiere audience discussion is a disappointment, amounting to a polite, if heated, argument...)
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