By Collette Prince
The film is introduced to us by a home video by the Friedman’s and Jesse Friedman as the presenter and his father as the interviewed. It seems like a normal day in the Friedman home, a white middle class family happy and united. However, Jesse’s voice over in the opening scene contradicts what you see and from then you realise that there is an elephant in the room.
Director Andrew Jarecki is known for his films that look at cases of people being faced by the law and being convicted for crimes that were “never” committed. He documents the journey and the outcome of the child molestation case of 1984, faced by Arnold and Jesse Friedman.
The title which appears after the opening scene followed by a family montage of the Friedman’s, illustrates how everything is not exactly how it seems. This is done by creating the sublime by the use of country music in the background and the constant use of archived family home videos of the Friedman’s.
The main characters of the film is computer school teacher Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse Friedman, who are accused of child sodomy. Throughout the film there is an endless conflict between the account of the law/police and that of every other human being involved in the case. Police state that they “do not even recall if there was any physical evidence” of child molestation and then police stating that they have evidence of him sodomising more than sixteen children? On the other hand, there is written evidence of the children who testified against the Friedman’s, stating that they were never sexual assaulted by Jesse or Arnold.
The most alluring testimony within the case, is that of Gregory Dough. We can only see the silhouette of his face, he is in a wide shot angle, in a dark room and he is the only visual evidence that the audience gets to see, that testifies against Arnold and Jesse Friedman. You never know whether his testimony is true or not, because he is the only victim captured in a juxtaposing position than every other victim interviewed in the film. This brings to question if Jarecki made this editorial decision as a hint to the fact that Dough’s account cannot be trusted. Upon further research, it was also revealed that the accounts of Gregory Dough were also false, which was proven by a sworn statement by his therapist at the time. However, this was also left out in the film, yet we never see it.
Jarecki gives you the idea that he is giving you the choice to decide whether Arnold and Jesse Friedman are guilty or innocent. The cover image of the documentary states “who do you believe?” I think that this entire notion is a fallacy. Jarecki leaves out key information that reveals Jesse Friedman testifying to his guilt and much more. He further believes that Jesse is innocent, as such tries to portray him in this light. The irony being, that in him trying to represent Jesse Friedman as innocent, he actually makes him seem guiltier than his father. The unethical implications placed on everyone associated; such as Elaine, David and Seth Friedman will always be placed under the umbrella of a family associated with child sodomy, by mere association and representation. Furthermore, the illusion that every account stated is of absolute importance and truth by having his interview at a medium close up, almost every time is also him curating the decision you “make” at the end.
“Kids liked him and he liked kids”, stated by David Friedman is the statement that resonates within me throughout the whole film when I watched it three times over. A statement swept under the rug, yet holds the greatest depth throughout the film. Even though it may seem as a deep exploration into the father-son’s relationship and how this led to the Friedman case, there is still an unsettling indecision of Jarecki compromising the legitimacy of his documentary because of the editorial decisions he took, by leaving out pertinent information, that we need to know to form our own decision.