Monday, July 28, 2003

selling the friedmans

Since it seems like most of my friends have now seen Capturing the Friedmans, I'm putting up a link to an article in the Village Voice by Debbie Nathan, a journalist who was interviewed in the film. The movie has the interesting property of making you feel suspicious and bad about every single person within it; the article adds to the sensation by also making you feel uneasy about the director. The story behind the film is that David Friedman, son and brother of the two persons jailed for a massive number of counts of child molestation, grew up to become Silly Billy, the most well-known birthday clown in NYC. Andrew Jarecki, the director of the film, was originally going to make a documentary about the clown, and only incidentally came into the knowledge of David Friedman's ugly familial past. As Nathan's article presents it, David Friedman--who has never been accused of any crime--was basically coerced into participating in a film that has a good chance of ruining his career:
Jarecki put two and two together and changed the focus of his film. David was distraught, but he and the family had already signed releases for [the Silly Billy documentary].

An obvious defense for this is that Jarecki is the one a journalist might use, that the story is one of public interest and so that overrides the problem where all kinds of parents may no longer be willing to hire Silly Billy as a clown after learning his family's story and seeing him in this film. But, if this were the case, you would think that Jarecki might then feel some responsibility to tell the story as accurately as possible. Nathan's article, however, suggests that Jarecki had additional footage that would lend more support to the idea that the Friedmans were not guilty of the specific molestation crimes for which they were charged:
While the film was in production, Jarecki told the Friedman family he thought the two were innocent of the charges. Polling viewers at Sundance in January, he was struck by how they were split over Arnold and Jesse's guilt. Since then, he's crafted a marketing strategy based on ambiguity, and during Q&As and interviews, he has studiously avoided taking a stand. Teaser ads pitch the film as a Long Island Rashomon: "Who do you believe?" For Jarecki and his PR people, the question is rhetorical.

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