Capturing the Friedmans

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Capturing the Friedmans
Capturing the Friedmans poster.jpg
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Produced by Andrew Jarecki
Marc Smerling
Starring Arnold Friedman
Elaine Friedman
David Friedman
Jesse Friedman
Music by Bill Harrington
Andrea Morricone
Cinematography Adolfo Doring
Edited by Richard Hankin
Distributed by Magnolia Pictures
Release dates
  • May 30, 2003 (2003-05-30)
Running time
107 min.
Country United States
Language English

Capturing the Friedmans is an HBO documentary film directed by Andrew Jarecki. It focuses on the 1980s investigation of Arnold and Jesse Friedman for child molestation. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2003.[1]

Some of the Friedmans' alleged victims and family members wrote to the Awards Committee protesting the nomination, their identities confirmed but protected by the judge who presided over the court case.[2]


Jarecki initially was making a short film, which he completed, about children's birthday party entertainers in New York (Just a Clown), including the popular clown David Friedman (Silly Billy). During his research, Jarecki learned that David Friedman's brother, Jesse, and his father, Arnold, had pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse, and the family had an archive of home movies. Jarecki interviewed some of the children involved and ended up making a film focusing on the Friedmans.[3]


The investigation into Arnold Friedman's life started after the U.S. Postal Service in 1987 intercepted a magazine of child pornography received from the Netherlands. In searching his Great Neck, New York home, investigators found a collection of child pornography. After learning that Friedman taught children computer classes from his home, local police began to suspect him of abusing his students.

During police interviews, some of the children Friedman taught reported experiencing bizarre sex games during their computer classes. Jarecki interviewed some of these children himself; some stated that they had been in the room with other children alleging abuse, and that nothing had happened. The film portrayed police investigative procedures as the genesis of a "witch-hunt" in the Friedmans' community. The charges assume that abuse took place with multiple children, over an extended period, yet none of them ever told anything of it to anyone, nor were they in distress when parents arrived to pick them up from the computer classes.

The Friedmans took home videos while Arnold Friedman (and, later, his son Jesse) awaited trial. They were allowed to stay at home in order to prepare for court. The videos were not made with publishing in mind, but as a way to record what was happening in their lives. The movie shows much of this footage: family dinners, conversations, and arguments. Arnold's wife quickly decided that her husband was indeed guilty and advised him to confess and protect their son; she soon divorced him.

Arnold Friedman pleaded guilty to multiple charges of sodomy and sexual abuse. According to the Friedman family, he confessed in the hopes that his son would be spared prison time. Jesse Friedman later confessed as well, but later claimed he did so to avoid being sent to prison for life. He said in mitigation that his father had molested him. According to Jesse's lawyer Peter Panaro, who visited Arnold in a Wisconsin federal prison, Arnold admitted to molesting two boys, but not those who attended his computer classes. He is also quoted as claiming that, when he was 13, he had sex with his younger brother, Howard, who was eight years old at the time of the abuse; Howard Friedman, interviewed in the movie, says he does not recall this. Jesse Friedman, in a subsequent statement, said that his father told him and his brothers of his having sex with his younger brother.[4]

Arnold Friedman committed suicide in prison in 1995, leaving a $250,000 life insurance benefit to his son. Jesse Friedman was released from New York's Clinton Correctional Facility in 2001 after serving 13 years of his sentence. Currently, he is running an online book-selling business.[5]


The film received extremely positive reviews, with the review tallying website reporting that 139 out of the 143 reviews they tallied were positive for a score of 97 percent and a certification of "fresh".[6] The film was ranked as the 7th best reviewed movie of 2003 on the website's best of the year list.[7] The low-budget documentary was a success with audiences as well grossing over $3 million in theaters, making it a surprise hit.[8] In terms of individual reviews Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Jarecki so recognizes the archetypal figures in the Friedman home that he knows to push things any further through heavy-handed assessment would be redundant." He praised Jarecki for operating under the premise "that first impressions can't be trusted and that truth rests with each person telling the story."[9]

Washington Post columnist Desson Howe offered similar praise, writing, "It's testament to Jarecki's superbly wrought film that everyone seems to be, simultaneously, morally suspect and strikingly innocent as they relate their stories and assertions...This is a film about the quagmire of mystery in every human soul."[10] Similarly, Roger Ebert wrote, "The film is as an instructive lesson about the elusiveness of facts, especially in a legal context. Sometimes guilt and innocence are discovered in court, but sometimes, we gather, only truths about the law are demonstrated."[11] The film won the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for 2003.[11] Capturing the Friedmans was voted the fifth most popular film in the Channel 4 programme, The 50 Greatest Documentaries of all time, in 2005.

In one of the few negative reviews, Los Angeles Times writer Kenneth Turan wrote a critique of both the film and Jarecki stating, "Jarecki's pose of impartiality gets especially troublesome for audiences when it enables him to evade responsibility for dealing with the complexities of his material."[12]

Criticism intensified as Jarecki's role in deliberately choosing not to pursue his firm belief in the Friedmans' innocence became publicly known. In his review, Ebert had recounted Jarecki's statement at the Sundance Film Festival that he did not know whether Arnold and Jesse Friedman were guilty of child molestation. Ebert roundly praised Jarecki for communicating this ambiguity.[11] It has since emerged that Jarecki funded Jesse Friedman's appeal.[13] Writing for The Village Voice, Debbie Nathan – who was hired by Jarecki as a consultant after having been interviewed for the film – wrote of Jarecki, "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."[14]

Additional materials[edit]

The 2003 DVD release included a second DVD: "Capturing the Friedmans - Outside the Frame". It included:

  • Unseen home movies ("Passover Seder", "Grandma Speaks", "Jesse's Last Night")
  • Great Neck Outraged.
  • New Witnesses and Evidence.
  • Uncut footage of the prosecution's star witness.
  • Friedman family scrapbook and hidden audio tapes.
  • Just a Clown (the movie with David Friedman that led to the whole Friedman project).
  • Jesse's Life Today.
  • An altercation at the film's New York premiere. (The retired head of the Nassau County Police's Sex Crimes Unit, Frances Galasso, speaks.)
  • The Judge (Abbey Boklan) speaks out at the Great Neck premiere.
  • A ROM section with key documents from the family and the case.

The most important of these materials were from the premiere, in a discussion period after which Galasso got in an altercation with Debbie Nathan, and from the showing in Great Neck, at which the trial judge Abbey Boklan was present. Both made the claim that the film had ignored relevant evidence of Jesse's guilt. This included his appearance on the Geraldo Rivera show, when Jesse confessed to sexually abusing children,[15] and the fact that there was another defendant (Ross Goldstein), who turned state's evidence and pleaded guilty (he is not named, much less interviewed, in the film), and two other unindicted boy co-conspirators. Jesse's lawyer at the time, Peter Panaro, said that he had advised Jesse not to appear on Rivera's talk show (Panaro was also present on the show), and in fact had Jesse sign an affidavit saying that he was doing so against legal advice.[citation needed]

Subsequent legal developments[edit]

In August 2010, a federal appeals court upheld the conviction of Jesse Friedman on technical legal grounds,[16] but took the unusual step of urging prosecutors to reopen Friedman’s case, saying that there was a “reasonable likelihood that Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted”.[17] The decision cited "overzealousness" by law enforcement officials swept up in the hysteria over child molestation in the 1980s.

Following the appeals court ruling, the Nassau District Attorney's office began a three-year investigation led by District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice. On June 24, 2013, the report was released. In a 155-page report[dead link], the district attorney's office concluded that none of four issues raised in a strongly-worded 2010 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was substantiated by the evidence. Instead, it concluded, "By any impartial analysis, the reinvestigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates and the Second Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender." Jesse Friedman was regarded as a "narcissist" and a "psychopathic deviant" by a psychiatrist his attorney hired to conduct an evaluation.[18] Boklan had been subject to "selectively edited and misleading film portrayals in Capturing the Friedmans". A four-member independent advisory panel guided and oversaw the work. It included Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project and one of the country’s leading advocates for overturning wrongful convictions and a member of OJ Simpson's defense team.[19] However, Scheck has subsequently complained that key documents were not available to the panel, and urged the matter be reopened.[20]

Prior to the report's release, details emerged, including letters from some of the alleged victims in which they recant their accusations and implicate the police in coercing their statements.[21] Prior to the report's release, The Village Voice conducted an interview with Jesse Friedman,[22] who described himself as "freakishly optimistic", and also reported that Ross Goldstein, a childhood friend of Jesse Friedman's, had broken his 25-year silence to explain he had been coerced into cooperating with the district attorney's office: "He told the review panel of how he'd been coerced into lying, how prosecutors coached him through details of the Friedmans' computer lab, which he'd never even seen, and how he was imprisoned for something he'd never done."[23]

On February 10, 2015, Jesse Friedman was back in state appellate court seeking to have Nassau County prosecutors turn over to him the remainder of their evidence against him, which they have not done despite a 2013 court order telling them to do so.[24] A state Appeals Court found, in December 2015, that the prosecutors did not have to release the records. According to a spokesperson for the Nassau County District Attorney, explaining the court's decision, the records of witnesses who did not testify, because Friedman pleaded guilty and there was no trial, are confidential and the law does not mandate their disclosure.[25]


  1. ^ "Capturing the Friedmans". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  2. ^ Waxman, Sharon (February 24, 2004). "Victims Say Film on Molesters Distorts Facts". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  3. ^ Byrne, P. (2004). Review of Capturing the Friedmans. BMJ, 328(7444), 901. Chicago; retrieved October 25, 2013
  4. ^ "Presentation by Jesse Friedman, May 17, 2012",, consulted 10-20-2014.
  5. ^
  6. ^, Capturing the Friedmans entry, Retrieved February 12, 2007
  7. ^, Best of 2003, Retrieved February 12, 2007
  8. ^, Business data for Capturing the Friedmans, Retrieved February 12, 2007
  9. ^ "The New York Times." Capturing the Friedmans, May 30, 2003, Retrieved February 12, 2007
  10. ^ "The Washington Post." The Friedmans' Tale of the Tapes, Friday, June 13, 2003; p. WE33
  11. ^ a b c, Capturing the Friedmans review, June 6, 2003
  12. ^ "The Los Angeles Times." MOVIE REVIEW Capturing the Friedmans, June 13, 2003
  13. ^ Vitello, P (2004-01-11). "Documentary's Haunting Tale of Abuse: Open letter to Friedman's victims". Newsday. Retrieved 2009-09-18. 
  14. ^ Nathan, D (2003-05-26). Complex Persecution "Complex Persecution: A Long Island Family's Nightmare Struggle With Porn, Pedophilia, and Public Hysteria" Check |url= value (help). The Village Voice. Retrieved 2009-09-18. 
  15. ^ The recording of this video has not been released publicly, as of 2016.
  16. ^ US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit (August 17, 2010). "FRIEDMAN v. REHAL". Findlaw. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  17. ^ Nathan Duke (August 25, 2010). "Conviction of Friedman upheld". TimesLedger Newspapers. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  18. ^ Dareh Gregorian (June 25, 2013). "Jesse Friedman is 100% guilty of sexually abusing children, reinvestigation by Nassau County district attorney concludes". The New York Daily News. Retrieved July 26, 2016. 
  19. ^ Peter Applebome (June 24, 2013). "Friedman's Sexual-Abuse Conviction Was Justified, Report Says". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Scheck Takes a Different Tack in Friedman Case", June 24, 2014,, consulted 10-23-2014.
  21. ^ Peter Applebome (June 15, 2013). "Reinvestigating the Friedmans". The New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  22. ^ Nick Pinto (May 30, 2013). "Jesse Friedman: The Interview". The Village Voice. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  23. ^ Nick Pinto (May 29, 2013). "Jesse Friedman Spent 13 Years in Prison as a Notorious Child Rapist -- He May Soon Get an Apology". The Village Voice. Retrieved June 16, 2013. 
  24. ^ Jesse Wegman (February 9, 2013). "After a Guilty Plea, a Prison Term and a Movie, a Sex Abuse Case Returns". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2015. 
  25. ^ CBS New York, "Court Denies Jesse Friedman Access To Documents In Sex Abuse Case", December 9, 2015,, retrieved July 7, 2016.

External links[edit]