How A Rank Beginner Captured The Friedmans

Andrew Jarecki just wanted to do a nice little documentary about clowns. He'd made a fortune selling Moviefone, the company he founded, to AOL in 1999, decided to try filmmaking and thought he'd cut his teeth on something easy. Like birthday-party clowns--a small community he'd noticed in Manhattan. That's how he met David Friedman, the top children's clown in the city. After a visit to Friedman's boyhood home, David emerged from the house shaken but wouldn't explain why. Jarecki soon found out.

Needless to say, the nice little clown movie was history. A novice filmmaker had stumbled onto a mercilessly complex drama that, a decade earlier, had made careers and ruined lives. (Hello, and welcome to More Than You Bargained For!) "Every time I thought I had this story figured out--which I did on a hundred occasions--the next day, I'd meet someone new and the truth would shift," says Jarecki, 39. "I had to bring a level of concentration that I'd never used in my life." Friedman trusted Jarecki, but he still agonized about cooperating. "We were changing from a story about me being a great entertainer, which was probably going to help my career," Friedman says, "to a story about the case against my father and brother, which could conceivably ruin it." Ultimately, he agreed to participate, believing that the film might help vindicate them.

On the surface, "Capturing the Friedmans" is about a family's destruction, but to Jarecki, the film's subtext is that community hysteria may have put innocent people in prison. "There's a helicopter shot of Great Neck in the film, and the town looked like a giant amoeba to me," he says. "At some point, this organism decided there was a bad cell and it needed to be eliminated. So all the white blood cells arrived--the police, the district attorneys, the community leaders--and they just swarmed." By the end of the film, it isn't clear whether the Friedmans were guilty or innocent. But it's clear they never had a chance.

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How A Rank Beginner Captured The Friedmans | News