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Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki

His new movie is Capturing the Friedmans. It's a non-fiction feature film about a seemingly normal Long Island, New York family. The film takes a look at the convoluted case and attempts to determine the true story. Capturing the Friedmans won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2003 Sundance festival. This is Jarecki's first feature film. He was also the founder and CEO of Moviefone, which was acquired by AOL in 1999 for nearly $400 million.

45:17

Other segments from the episode on June 24, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 24, 2003: Interview with Andrew Jarecki; Interview with Susan Orlean.

Transcript

DATE June 24, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Andrew Jarecki discusses his new documentary
titled "Capturing the Friedmans"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to talk about what is perhaps the most controversial film of the
year and one of the most acclaimed, the documentary "Capturing the Friedmans."

(Soundbite of "Capturing the Friedmans")

Unidentified Man: Well, this is private, so if you're not me then you really
shouldn't be watching this 'cause this is supposed to be a private situation
between me and me. It's between me now and me in the future. So turn it off.
Don't watch this. This is private.

GROSS: That's just one of the home videos we see in "Capturing the
Friedmans." These private videos don't show anything salacious. They document
a family coming apart. In 1987, Arnold Friedman, the father in the family and
a retired award-winning schoolteacher, was arrested and accused of sexually
molesting children in the computer classes he taught in his home.
Eighteen-year-old Jesse Friedman, the youngest of Arnold's three sons, was
also accused of molesting the students. Even though they both maintained
their innocence, they feared they would be convicted, so they pleaded guilty
in the hopes of getting shorter sentences. Arnold Friedman committed suicide
in prison. Jesse was released in 2001, after serving 13 years.

Although Arnold Friedman said he never molested his students, he did secretly
collect pedophile literature. "Capturing the Friedmans" documents how the
family reacted to that discovery and to the criminal charges. In addition to
seeing the Friedmans' home videos, we see interviews with the family and
interviews with detectives, lawyers and the judge involved in the case. No
one seems to agree on what really happened.

My guest is the film's director, Andrew Jarecki. It's his first film. He
founded MovieFone, which he sold to AOL in 1999 for $388 million. "Capturing
the Friedmans" isn't the film Jarecki set out to make. He intended to make a
documentary about the oldest Friedman son, David, and his career as a popular
clown at children's parties in New York.

What was the turning point for you when you realized that the story, the way
you were telling it, was only just a fraction of what the real story was and
that there was a much darker story underneath that?

Mr. ANDREW JARECKI (Director, "Capturing the Friedmans"): Well, there's a
moment in the film early on when you see David Friedman sitting on the steps
of his boyhood home, and I had brought him there because I felt that the
stories that he was telling me about his family were these kind of neatly
packaged stories that didn't really go anywhere. And knowing what I know
about families and how screwed up they often are, it seemed to me implausible.
And I said to him, `Well, you know, why don't we go back to your house where
you were a kid?' And he said, `No, we don't really need to do that.' And I
said, `No, no, let's do that.'

And so we went back, and I seated him on the steps of his boyhood home, and he
gives me sort of this same routine for a while. And I said, `That's really
it?' And he said, `Yeah, that's pretty much it. My father was a great guy,
and my mother is crazy. And, you know, my brothers were wonderful.' And I
said, `When was the last time you were in your bedroom?' And he said, `Oh,
it's been many, many years.' So I went up and I knocked on the door, and there
was a woman that owns the house now, and she let him go into his bedroom. And
I stayed outside for the time that he was in his bedroom. And, finally, by
the time he came out, he was a little wobbly, a little emotional. And it was
the first time I'd seen him like that. And he sat back down, and I said, `All
right, is there anything else you want to tell me?' And he said, `No, no,
that's pretty much it, unless you want to hear about my mom's suicide
attempt.'

And it was really the first moment of any kind of, really, deeply personal
revelation, and I said, `Sure. Well, let's talk about that.' And I pushed him
on that a little bit. And in the film there's a moment when he says, `Well,
there's a lot I could,' and then he sort of pauses and he says, `Well, there's
some things I don't want to talk about.' And so it was really then that I knew
that there was more to the story, although at the time I still didn't know
what it was.

GROSS: You know, I have to say taking him to his bedroom, to the bedroom he
grew up in, in the house that the family no longer lived in--kind of a
brilliant idea. How did you think of that?

Mr. JARECKI: You know, I just thought that the closer I got him to his
childhood physically, the more likely he was going to be to be there
emotionally.

GROSS: So it wasn't David who told you the secrets of his family. You
learned them someplace else. Did you learn them from the newspaper or from
another member of the family?

Mr. JARECKI: Well, after I had that first conversation with David on the
steps, I knew that I would need to do some digging on my own and that he kept
dropping these little bread crumbs for me along the way. You know, he would
say, `Well, you're a smart guy. You could figure it out.' And so one of the
things I wanted to do was to talk to his mother, partly because he was so
hateful to his mother, and he would always say that, `My mother's an idiot,
and she's crazy, and she's a child.' And I thought--I didn't know that he was
necessarily being fair to her, and I said to him at a certain point, `Well,
you say so many awful things about your mother. I feel like I should go
interview her.' And he said, `No, no, she would tell you crazy things, and you
can't believe anything she says.' So, of course, that intrigued me.

But I couldn't get to her, and I didn't want to get to her without his
blessing, in a way. So I waited. And then I found out that David had been on
"Candid Camera" when he was a kid, which is kind of ironic considering how
much...

GROSS: Yeah. It's like perfect, yeah.

Mr. JARECKI: And I knew that he always wanted to get a copy of it because
they only had photographs of it that his father had taken of the television
set. At one point I'd asked him about it, and he said it made him crazy that
that was the time he was the most famous in his life and he didn't have a copy
of it because it was sort of before the age of VHS machines. And one day he
called me up, and he said, `I know you want to talk to my mother, and I want a
copy of that "Candid Camera." So if you could use your filmmaker magic to get
me a copy of the "Candid Camera" episode that I was on, then you could talk to
my mother.'

And so we sort of had this dealmaking that went on during the course of making
the film, and then eventually I did go see his mother. And we had this very
interesting non-interview, where she started to tell me things and then
didn't. And I realized very early on that she'd been sort of sworn to secrecy
by David, and David said, you know, `Talk about the clown stuff, but that's
it.' But she said certain things in that first interview, which is in the
film. There are portions of it that really grabbed me, like at one point she
says, `Well, I can't say too much about it. We were a family.' And I remember
when she said that to me, `We were a family,' that it just struck me as so sad
because, you know, here's a woman who's in her 70s, who obviously made her
main mission in her life to build this family. And most of these people are
still alive, but she's talking about the family in the past tense.

GROSS: Well...

Mr. JARECKI: So that really made me want to learn what had happened to the
family.

GROSS: So David didn't really tell you anything. His mother implied that
terrible things had happened in the family; didn't tell you what those things
were.

Mr. JARECKI: Right.

GROSS: So how did you find out?

Mr. JARECKI: Well, when I was at Elaine's house, I set up to interview her
in the front room of her house, and she said, `Why don't you sit here, and
I'll come in when you're ready?' So we set up, and it took about an hour. And
then she came in about an hour later, and she said, `All right. Are you
ready?' And I said, `Yeah.' And she said, `You know, there's another room.
I'm thinking maybe we'd be better off in this other room.' So I take
everything apart, and we set it up again in the dining room. That took
another hour. Then she comes in at the end, she says, `You know, I'm thinking
maybe we should be in this other room.' And I really got the sense that she
was sort of physically bringing me deeper into her house, and she said, `This
is my office. Why don't we do it in here?'

And so she took me into this very tiny room in the back of the house, and we
set up the camera in there. And she said, `Why don't you sit here at the
desk, and I'll come back in a little while?' And on the desk there were a
whole bunch of papers and bills and things all facing her direction, but where
I was sitting there was only one thing facing me, and that was a writing
tablet. And on the tablet, in her handwriting, was written a letter, which,
you know, I have to say I thought it was sort of written to me because she put
me right in front of it. In the end I think it turned out to be--or she says
it was a letter to the editor that she was thinking about writing. And it
said, `A person of faith, a deeply religious person, I was always brought up
in the Jewish faith to believe that truth and justice were the most important
things. Truth and justice were never a part of this case.'

And she goes on to say, you know, `From the moment that the first accusations
had been made against Jesse and his father, the community was in an uproar.'
And she sort of continues. And at that moment I knew that there was a very
public case, and I went on Nexis and did some basic research. And I found
this huge story in Newsday, which described, just in the most salacious, dark
way, just this incredible, you know, odyssey of evil that had been described
by the reporter in that story. And that certainly gave me enough information
to go on.

GROSS: So you suspected that there was a darker story than what you were
finding out. You finally learned about the story through researching it in
the newspapers. Then what? You went back to David Friedman and said, `I know
the real story, and that's the movie I want to make'?

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah.

GROSS: What was his reaction?

Mr. JARECKI: You know, I didn't want to confront him with it with the
cameras rolling, but I wanted to give him a chance to say it to me and to talk
about it if he wanted to. So I was interviewing him normally, as we had many
times before, and I turned off the camera and I asked everyone to leave. And
he said, `Oh, what's going on?' And I said, `Well, I want to let you know--you
remember you said I was a smart guy, I could figure it out? Well, I figured
it out.' And, you know, his face fell for a second, and he said, `Oh.' And I
said, `You know, I think that, you know, you know that this is really the
right film to make, and I think this film has to get made.' And, you know, he
asked me a few questions about it, and he said, `Well, I know that I don't
want this film to get made because it couldn't possibly be good for my career
as a birthday party clown.' And I said, `Yeah, but maybe it would be good for
you in some other ways. I mean, this seems to have been a huge burden to
you.' And he said, `You have no idea what a burden it's been. You know, I'm
going to entertain kids at a party, and simultaneously I'm getting a phone
call from my brother, who's, you know, just gotten beaten up in the state
prison.' He said, `It's just incredible.' And I said, `Well, I want you to
think about it.'

And we didn't do any interviewing for a long time after that, and I think he
thought a lot about it. But during that time everyone else in the family did
want to be interviewed, and so I did go back and talk to Elaine after that.
And that was when I got the main interview in the film of Elaine.

GROSS: The people who did want to participate in the movie, do you think that
they were hoping that a more complete version of their story would be told, a
more sympathetic version?

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. I mean, when I visited Jesse in jail, he said to me,
`You know, I don't know enough to know whether I should trust you or not, but
it doesn't matter because it can't get any worse for me.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. JARECKI: `You know, I'm the lowest person in society, no matter what.
And when I get out of jail, I'm going to continue to be the lowest person in
society. So my hope is that if you do the work, you will find out that this
was incredibly miscarried and that I shouldn't be here at all. And I hope
when I get out there'll be a document. I don't even expect my prison term to
end early at all. I just hope that there'll be a document so that when I get
out, people won't say, "Oh, well, I read about you in the newspaper. That
must be true."'

GROSS: Because you're reopening up this horrible, horribly painful story
about convictions on child abuse, convictions that might have been wrong, and
because everybody was still so emotionally ravaged by that experience, by
making this movie you risked really hurting people and getting them deeper
into it and kind of totally retarding or ending the healing process. On the
other hand, you took the chance, too, that it could help; that a truth that
hadn't been revealed could be revealed or complications that hadn't been seen
could have been seen. But did you worry at all that you were taking on the
responsibility for the mental health of these people? I mean, it's possible
somebody could have even, like, decided to take their life as a result of this
being made public again. I mean, that's...

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah, I did think about that a lot. I mean, I certainly
agonized over that. And I think, you know, there's a balancing effect because
let's say I was able to show, as in some way the film does show, that some of
these charges were completely baseless or that this prosecution was done in a
way beyond shabby. The other side of it is that there are kids out there
wandering around thinking that they have been horribly abused that maybe
haven't, and that's something, you know, for many children to go carry that
around for the rest of their lives. I mean, those people have had hundreds of
conversations. Every time they've had a relationship, every time they've had
a therapy session, they've had a discussion about that and what they believe
happened or what they were told or what they remember, or that they were in
the computer class and they don't remember it. Whatever it is, that's damage.

And I think for Jesse Friedman to have gone to jail for 13 years, that's
tremendous damage. For the family to have been disrupted--so there was so
much upside in terms of opening and letting air into this issue that I felt
that if I could find the hope and positive in the story, I would. I should
say that at a certain point I felt I needed some counseling on it and some
advice, just to be able to talk to someone else who had been there before.
And I sort of felt like I needed an ethics adviser, and so I went to see Dr.
Coles at Harvard.

GROSS: Robert Coles.

Mr. JARECKI: And, you know, he's quite an interesting person 'cause he's got
this remarkable confluence of talents. He is the James Agee professor of
social ethics at Harvard. He's also an expert child psychologist, and he's
also the editor of DoubleTake magazine, which is a documentary magazine. So
he was right in the crosshairs of all these issues. And I went and I talked
to him for most of a day, and I told him the story. And at the end he very
articulately said, `Yikes.' And then, you know, after a little bit of
discussion, he said, `Well, first of all, if you're worried about
retraumatizing people and about telling a story and not in a humane way, if
you're going to tell some salacious story, I wouldn't worry about it because
if you were going to do that, you wouldn't be sitting here. And I would trust
yourself. You're going to be humane, you're going to be kind to all the
people that were involved in this. You're not going to make fun of anyone,
and you're not going to misrepresent anyone. So, first of all, don't worry
about it.' And that was kind of liberating, and I think that was true.

And the second thing he said was, `Remember that you started out making a
movie about David, and you're worried about how it could impact David's clown
career. And that's a valid concern, and you should address that in some ways.
But that's not what the film's about anymore, and so your constituents are no
longer just David. Now Elaine is relying on you to tell her version of this
story. And Jesse Friedman, who's in jail, is relying on you to give him some
other purpose when he gets out of jail. And the kids who were allegedly
abused in this computer class are relying on you.' You know, it became
something that went far beyond David.

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Jarecki, director of the documentary "Capturing the
Friedmans." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Jarecki, director of the documentary "Capturing the
Friedmans."

Here's another home video from the film. Arnold is home for six weeks before
going to prison. The family is sitting around the dining room table. David
and his mother, Elaine, are fighting.

(Soundbite of conversation from home video)

Mrs. ELAINE FRIEDMAN: Why don't you try once to be supportive of me?

Mr. DAVID FRIEDMAN: Well, I'll tell you why. Because we all started at the
beginning of this thing, and I...

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: Well, let's start from right now.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: OK, let's start from right now.

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: Right now.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: All right, let's start from right now. I'll start brand new.

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: ...(Unintelligible) not in my face.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: We're all starting brand new.

Unidentified Man: I didn't start brand new.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: We have a decision-making process on the table. It's clear...

Unidentified Man: Great. Great.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: ...all the past mistakes, they were mistakes. We're not going
to hold them against anyone.

Unidentified Man: Great. Great. Now we're starting fresh.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: OK. Good.

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: All I...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Mommy, I love you.

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: ...ask is that I...

Mr. FRIEDMAN: Stop, lower your voice and talk nicely to your son.

Unidentified Man: OK, hold on, hold on.

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: ...wanted you guys to cool down.

Mr. FRIEDMAN: All right. Now we're going to do it, starting now.

Mrs. FRIEDMAN: Seth, why don't you call me that? Do I call you that?

(Unintelligible comments from family members)

GROSS: That's a clip from "Capturing the Friedmans," a new documentary. My
guest is the director, Andrew Jarecki.

I think most of us listening to this clip would think, `God forbid my family
fights, we're on video like this and that anyone in the world would see them.'

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah.

GROSS: I mean, I think that that's potentially the most embarrassing,
horrifying--I wouldn't even want to see them of my--I mean, you don't even
want to see yourself in that situation. Just, `It's over. Fine.'

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah.

GROSS: So I think most of us who've seen the movie walk away thinking, `Why
in the world did they videotape this kind of stuff?'

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. Well, you know, like many things in the film, there are
two sides to that story. You know, the police would have you believe that the
reason that the Friedmans videotaped everything is because they're so
unhinged; they're just these sort of monstrous, crazy people, and they don't
know the difference between video and real life, and the videos figured into
all of their diabolical schemes. I don't find that to be the case at all.

I think that--David Friedman has said to me before, `The reason I shot the
videotape is because I knew my father was going to go to jail in six weeks,
and he was home on house arrest. And I wanted to have a record of him for my
children, for my grandchildren, and I didn't want them to have to read about
their grandfather in the article that was written in Newsday or in some
television broadcast. He was a real person. He was complex. He was a loving
person. He was a good man in a lot of ways, even if he did, you know, a
number of bad things. And so of course I videotaped my father. Wouldn't you
have?'

And as for the question of why he continued to videotape after, you know, it
stopped just being "This Is Your Life" and, `Let's talk about Arnold's
childhood,' I think David would say, `We just had to have a record of what was
going on. We couldn't even understand it, so we thought, "Well, we've got to
commit this thing to something that we can look at later to try to
interpret."'

GROSS: One of the things I kept thinking about watching the movie was: Is
the impulse to videotape your life like this and to videotape your family at
the worst moment it has ever gone through and to videotape the fights
surrounding that horrible moment--is that exhibitionistic in any way, even if
you think no one else is going to see it, you know? And is there anything
different about videotaping your life than writing about it in your diary?
Almost everybody keeps a diary at some point or another in their life.

Mr. JARECKI: Right.

GROSS: And we usually lock it up or hide it in a drawer and hope that no one
gets to see it. But, you know, a videotape seems like so much more public and
so much more about watching yourself live through something...

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah.

GROSS: ...you know. And so it's easier to think of it as either an
exhibitionistic or narcissistic act because it's about watching yourself go
through an experience.

Mr. JARECKI: Well, you know, first of all, I should say that they didn't
just videotape it. They also audiotaped it because when the video camera
couldn't be present--for example, the boys knew that the parents were arguing
about these things. The boys, in my view, didn't know how much the father was
professing and claiming innocence and how much he was truly innocent because
some of the charges would have been things that probably would have been
difficult for anyone other than the father to know about. And so the boys,
seeing where this was headed, would do things like audiotape their parents in
their bedroom. So they had, like, a little RadioShack, you know, audio
recorder.

GROSS: You mean like a hidden recorder?

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. They would sort of put it next to the door of their
parents' room to record what their parents were saying, so that they could go
listen to it. David did have a diary. So there was audiotaping, there was
videotaping, there was diary-writing going on at the same time. David says,
at one point in the film, `Maybe I shot the videotapes so I wouldn't have to
remember it myself because I don't really remember it outside of the
videotape.' I at least understand, you know, from his perspective why he felt
like the trauma that was going on was so hard to absorb that, in a way, he had
to put a camera between himself and it.

But, you know, this was the way of this family. They had always had a camera.
In this dinner that you're talking about, where the family's sitting around
and having this incredible argument, to me, it was remarkable to see because
the camera literally has a seat at the table. I mean, it's clear that two of
the brothers have moved apart to enable the camera to be at the dinner table.
And I think also, you know, that they were videotaping so frequently that they
just, you know, didn't turn it off, and as a result everyone behaved totally
normally around it.

GROSS: Andrew Jarecki will be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with film director Andrew
Jarecki about his documentary "Capturing the Friedmans." Then we'll hear from
Susan Orlean who write a profile in The New Yorker on David Friedman and his
career as a clown before she knew that his father and brother had been in
prison.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Andrew Jarecki,
director of the new documentary "Capturing the Friedmans." In 1987, Arnold
Friedman and his then-18-year-old son Jesse were accused of sexually molesting
children in the computer classes Arnold taught at their home in the suburb of
Great Neck, New York. Although they both maintained their innocence, they
feared they would be convicted, so they pleaded guilty in the hopes of getting
shorter sentences. The film documents how the family fell apart.

When we left off, we were talking about the home videos the family made of
their conversations and their fights.

So one of the reasons why there may be tapes is that they could have a record
of what really happened, but what we learn from your film and from all the
home videos is that everybody's total contradictory of each other. In
watching your movie, we really don't know what happened, because the lawyer
and his own client contradict each other about their own conversations; the
mother and the sons contradict each other; the father and the sons; the two
brothers contradict--everybody contradicts each other.

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah.

GROSS: The truth is so elusive in this. So, you know, I guess the things
that were videotaped are kind of undeniable, but everything around it
certainly is up for grabs, and even the interpretation of those home videos...

Mr. JARECKI: Well, there are moments even...

GROSS: ...are, you know, very subjective.

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. I mean, there are moments in the home videos when, you
know, David's at the table at one point and he says to someone--they're
talking about a witness in the case, and he says, `Well, clearly he's lying
because nothing happened. Did something happen, Dad? No. So nothing
happened.' He actually turns to his father and asks him whether his father
has done anything to bring this on the family. His father doesn't answer, and
David interprets it instantly as a no, and doesn't even pause for the answer.
So there are moments in the videotape where you say, `Ah, very interesting.
So that tells me something about how the dynamic is going on in the family.'
There really never was a moment when those boys turned to their father and
said, you know, `Do you have something to tell us?'

Now David later says in the film, `Well, you know, we begged him to tell us if
something happened, because how else had this all sort of come down on us?'
Well, they didn't beg him, and I think they might think that they did. I
don't think they wanted to hear the answer perhaps. But I would say that the
same goes at least as much for the police, and that's, in a way, potentially
much more dangerous, because the Friedmans, you know, may have been an easy
target for this kind of thing because they are a family that split very easily
around these issues. They had so many problems internally just in terms of
relating to each other.

But when I first saw that detective, Fran Galasso, and I first interviewed
her, I was searching for somebody to believe. I was searching for somebody
who was going to have a clear representation of what happened that I could
consider authoritative. So she says to me early on in the film, `Well, the
one thing you have to worry about--I know I worried about it all the time--is
that just charging someone with this kind of a crime is enough to ruin their
lives, so you want to be sure.'

So when you hear her say that, you think, `Ah, finally. All right. With all
these conflicting stories and all this page-turning, I finally have somebody
who is articulate, intelligent, she's cautious and she's not going to lead me
down some path without being careful, so she's going to be my narrator. I'm
going to trust her from now on when I'm watching this film.' And then five
minutes later in the film she totally impeaches herself, and now you're back
on your own, and the audience has to make the decision for themselves. So
here you have a police department and a prosecuting side of a case where their
grasp of reality is exactly as skewed as the Friedmans'. I mean, the police
were no more clear in their thoughts, perhaps a lot less clear in their
thoughts, than the Friedman family.

GROSS: So one of the things you have to ask yourself watching this movie is:
Does everybody believe what they're saying? Are they lying? Or are they just
guilty of self-delusion? And where's that line between lying and just
deluding yourself to the point where you really believe what you're saying,
even though what you're saying isn't true? Did you think about that a lot?

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. I mean, I think that gets to so many of the interviews in
the film. You know, there's an interview with that judge, for example. I
mean, the judge is sort of such an interesting character because, you know,
she is brought into the case early, she's friends with the chief detective,
Fran Galasso, and it's clear, I think, where this case is going from the first
minute. You know, as soon as they went into Arnold Friedman's house and they
found a list of names of kids, immediately they handed it to the detectives
and they says, `Go start talking to these kids.' Well, one of the detectives
that's interviewed says, `We were given a list of alleged victims and we went
out to talk to them.' Well, he was never given a list of alleged victims. He
was given a list of computer students. Yet that small distinction when it was
handed to him and called a list of alleged victims gave him a certain
perspective going out to talk to these kids and a certain expectation of what
he was going to find out.

The judge says in this film, `There was never a doubt in my mind as to their
guilt.' Now for a sitting Supreme Court justice in Nassau County to say that
there was no doubt in her mind, even though she's never seen a trial in this
case, is a really frightening idea. And so going in, you find that everyone
has such a strong agenda, right? A police detective who's well-intentioned
goes in with a list of victims, right? A judge who is seemingly
well-intentioned goes in with a preconceived notion, so much so that in this
case she tells the district attorney, who tells Jesse's lawyer, she intends to
give him consecutive sentencing. In other words, if out of the hundreds of
charges he's been accused of he's only convicted on three charges that carry a
15-year term, this 18-year-old kid is going to go to jail for 45 years. So
when people go in with this tremendous preconception, the truth is altered
when they start to speak. The moment they start to speak, it's sort of a
translation and it's a version that they bring their own perspective to.

GROSS: In the Friedman family, the family seems to be ganging up against
Elaine Friedman, the mother and wife. And watching the movie, the only
evidence you have for why they would be so angry with her is that she
suggested, based on what the lawyers were saying, that the father and the son
should plead guilty in the hopes that they get lesser sentences...

Mr. JARECKI: Right.

GROSS: ...and that that strategy didn't work out real well for either of
them. But I kept thinking, like, there must be a missing link somewheres.
There must be something else in the family that explains the degree of anger
and contempt people in the family had for her. And I'm wondering, is there
something left out that helps explain that?

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. I mean, it's an interesting question. Certainly after
working on this film for three years and reviewing what I think is every piece
of known home video material and audio material and every therapy
session--they recorded the therapy sessions with the family therapist--it
seems to me that I've seen it. I mean, I've seen the material that there is
to be seen. It's possible--I mean, I think that the feeling of a family who
feels quite innocent--and if you see the film, I think there's a very good
argument to be made for the idea that they may not be guilty of any of the
charges that they were ultimately convicted of. In that light, it's easy to
understand the indignance and the incredible anger and fear that they were
feeling. And I think that this feeling that they needed someone to blame made
it easy for the boys to blame the mother.

You know, I've seen it in my family. You know, my brothers and I like to sort
of give my mother a hard time. I imagine, you know, sometimes we and my
father used to joke around at my mother's expense. And that seemed to me very
kind of primal--You know what I mean?--like it's as if we work on the female
in the family as a way of sort of seeing how we're going to relate to females
when we grow up or how we're going to become dominant and controlling. And so
it's sort of--there's a certain caveman mentality to that, and I think when
you add to that this incredible pressure from the outside, it refocused the
energy against Elaine.

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Jarecki, director of the documentary "Capturing the
Friedmans." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Jarecki, director of the documentary "Capturing the
Friedmans."

Making this movie in which everybody--and I've only touched the surface of all
the contradictions in testimony and what the family says about each other and
what the cops say, the detectives say, the judge says. It's just loaded with
contradictions. Did you lose whatever faith you had in memory, the accuracy
of memory, and the accuracy of first-person narrative, the accuracy in what
people tell you about themselves and the life that they have led?

Mr. JARECKI: Well, I think it's clear certainly and was more and more clear
to me during the film that people's memories are incredibly malleable and
change and that, in fact, you know, we talk about a memory bank like we put
our memories somewhere and they stay static. But the reality, I think, is
that memories are just these electrochemical impulses. You put them in the
memory bank and they're bubbling away, and that everything you do in your life
will influence them, you know, and you see it every day. People say, `Oh,
yeah, well, I graduated from Harvard University,' and then you find out that
actually they kind of took a summer course from the business school. And then
you say, `Well, how did they get there?' And the answer is if you confront
the person, they don't generally say, `You're right, you found me out.'
Usually they say, `Well, no, no, I kind of did.' And I think there's that
sense that our memories evolve over time to suit our needs, and that you can't
trust a memory to be just this static thing that you can trust.

GROSS: The person who seems to have the most difficult time accepting the
fact that Arnold Friedman, the father in the family, actually did do something
wrong, even if he was innocent of all the charges--he had a history of not
only reading pedophilia material, but he had...

Mr. JARECKI: Had contact with kids.

GROSS: He confessed to having contact with kids. And he actually wrote
something about himself in which he said, `In my early 40s, during the summer,
I did,' quote, `"go over the line" and did have sexually arousing contact with
two boys short of sodomy.' Now you talk about that with David, and I want to
play what David responds to hearing this statement that his father wrote.

(Soundbite from "Capturing the Friedmans")

Mr. FRIEDMAN: It's one sentence, huh? What does that mean? What do you
(censored) know what that sentence means? I don't even (censored) know what
that sentence means. `I sexually aroused'--what the (censored) is he talking
about? Maybe he put his arm around the kid. Maybe he took him in the
sailboat and he found that sexually arousing. Maybe he was leaning against a
tree. That's called sexually arousing contact, if you're sexually aroused
while you lean against a tree. I don't know what that means. I don't know
what that sentence means.

GROSS: OK, that's David Friedman in a clip from the movie "Capturing the
Friedmans." My guest is the director, Andrew Jarecki.

OK, so David was kind of in denial in his ability to accept that even if his
father was innocent of the charges in court that his father did have sexual
contact with children. When David finally saw your movie, did he change his
mind at all about his father's life or about, you know, the truth of his
father's experience as a pedophile?

Mr. JARECKI: Well, I think when David first saw the film, I don't know how
much he absorbed in that first viewing. I showed it to him, he was in a
screening room in New York, and he got up during the titles and he left. And
I waited a couple days before I called him, and when I called him, he just
immediately asked me a number specific, detailed questions, and then he said,
`I want to see it again.' And then over the course of seeing it now 10 or 12
different times and trying to absorb it, I think David has come to some
different realizations. For one thing, I think he's seen that an audience
seeing the film is able to discern some gray area, that if we accept that his
father is a pedophile, that doesn't automatically mean that he went to jail
properly, that his brother should have gone to jail, that the family should
have been destroyed over it, possible for us to understand that Arnold had
some problems but he was, in a way, a good man also. And David loves his
father so much, it's hard for him to accept any version that doesn't include
his father also being a father to him.

GROSS: Are you still keeping your opinion to yourself about the guilt or
innocence of Jesse Friedman and his father Arnold Friedman?

Mr. JARECKI: Well, I think it's important for people who see the film to
reach their own conclusion about it, and I think people do reach conclusions
quite quickly after the film. So I felt like my job was to bring the
information forward. So many people in the film are willing to express
themselves and give you detailed stories about things that occurred when they
were not present. And I wasn't there. But what I will say is that I never
ran into a situation in which Jesse Friedman told me something that later
turned out not to be true. And that was not the case with almost anyone else
in the film. His lawyer, Peter Panaro, told me things that weren't true, and
the judge told me things that weren't true, and the police told me things that
weren't true.

And not only was Jesse very forthcoming, but he would call me from prison in
these little sort of heartbreaking 15-minute phone calls before the machine
cuts you off, and he would say, `Well, what are you finding out? Who else can
you talk to? See more people. What about the computer students? Do more
work.' So he was never afraid of what I was going to find out. He was always
aggressively trying to get me to learn more. And I gave that a lot of value.

GROSS: So now he's out of jail and he's living the life of the convicted
child molester.

Mr. JARECKI: Yeah. Well, I mean, Jesse has a very tough time. You know,
when you get out of jail on crimes like this, you have to go back in front of
the original judge. So this judge, who was very tough on him the first time,
has to decide if you're Level 1 or Level 2 or Level 3 offenders. So she made
him a Level 3, which is a violent sexual predator.

So now he has to wear an electronic monitoring device around his ankle all the
time. He can't leave his house after 7:00 at night. He can't go to Central
Park. He can't live in a building where there are children. So, of course,
the parole board approved a building that he had found to live in, and then
after he had moved in, a couple weeks later they sent a letter to the board of
the building saying, `We just want to inform you that there's a violent sexual
predator living in 7G.' So then he was evicted, and he had to live in a
shelter.

So, you know, he's had a very, very tough time, and I think that'll go on for
many years to come. You know, you don't get out of this kind of situation
once you're in it. And his hope, I think, is that some of the attention that
this film will bring to his case may bring enough people forward to warrant a
kind of reanalysis. Although, you know, he won't get his years in prison
back, he may be able to get his parole restrictions relieved in some way.

GROSS: Earlier in our interview, you implied that you know a lot about
families and you know how screwed up families can be and what fights in
families can be like. And I was wondering, like, how much you identified with
what was going on in this family with the kind of not only battles between
them but the battles for truth between them about, you know, like, `What's the
truth? What really happened?'

Mr. JARECKI: Well, I mean, I think anybody that has a family, and certainly
I'm included in that, has a sense that, you know, there are certain platitudes
and there's a certain kind of friendliness that exists in a family, but that,
in a way, underneath that there are always doubts and feelings of whether
people are doing right by each other. And often in a family you get a
character, like the father, who sort of creates a lot of little fires and
blows up little bombs in the family all over the place, and then he just sort
of sits back at the dinner table and watches everybody else argue about them,
you know. And I've seen that in my family. I've seen it in lots of families.
And certainly Arnold was in that situation.

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Jarecki, author of the documentary "Capturing the
Friedmans." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Andrew Jarecki, director of the documentary "Capturing the
Friedmans."

One of the big contradictions, where you're wondering what's true and what's
not, when the son, Jesse Friedman, is accused of molesting children, he cops a
plea and he pleads guilty. But what he says is that his father incested him
and that that's what screwed him up. Now Jesse says to you that his lawyer
told him to say that in the hopes of getting a sympathetic treatment from the
judge. His lawyer tells you, no, this is what Jesse told him, Jesse confessed
this to him. The lawyer says, `I would never suggest anything like that if it
weren't true.' And, of course, we're left with who to believe. How do you
juggle that, in your mind?

Mr. JARECKI: Well, I mean, I pushed Jesse's lawyer, Peter Panaro, very hard
on that because the premise here is that a lawyer can't take his client in to
the judge and plead guilty unless he has been told by his client that he's
guilty. And then if the lawyer doesn't believe that the client is guilty, he
really shouldn't plead him guilty because at the essence of the justice
system, we hope justice is done; we don't hope deals are made. The reality is
that deals are made every day, deals are made in every case.

And so when I pushed Peter on this, I would say to him, `So you felt that
Jesse was innocent?' `Oh, yes, I always thought he was innocent.' `So then
there was this big moment when you decided that he wasn't innocent.' `Well,
he told me he was guilty.' And I said, `Did that change your mind?' And he
said, `Well, he told me he was.' And I said, `How did he tell you?' And he
said, `He told me, "Peter, I can admit it."' And I said, `Is that the same
thing as, "Peter, I did it"?' And Peter thought for a minute and he said,
`Well, I wouldn't have pled him guilty if he hadn't told me he was guilty.'
And he wouldn't go any further than that.

We've established that he was afraid he would be disbarred if he took his
client in and pled him guilty, even if he thought he wasn't. He's in a film.
He's not going to say any more than he said, and that's one of the interesting
things about it, is you feel like, well, if you have all the film in the world
and all the time in the world, ultimately you'll find the truth. But actually
some people won't give you any more truth than that.

GROSS: Andrew Jarecki directed the documentary "Capturing the Friedmans."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Susan Orlean on her article about David Friedman
TERRY GROSS, host:

In 1994, seven years after Arnold and Jesse Friedman pleaded guilty to
sexually abusing Arnold's computer students, Susan Orlean wrote a New Yorker
profile of the oldest Friedman son, David, and his career as a popular clown
at children's parties in New York. Orlean is best known as the author of "The
Orchid Thief," which was the basis of the recent film "Adaptation." When
Orlean profiled David Friedman, she was unaware that his brother and father
had been imprisoned after pleading guilty to molesting children. We asked
Orlean to talk with us about how she felt when she learned about the family
history and if she thinks about how the parents who hired David after reading
her profile reacted when they found out.

Ms. SUSAN ORLEAN (Author): Definitely thinking about it. The nature of
making public someone's life is so complex, and it's so fraught with
responsibility and responsibilities that, as a writer, you're not even always
of the responsibilities.

In this case, first of all, I think you have to separate the fact of David
from his father and his brother, no matter what. Just whatever they did or
didn't do, David is a separate person. There was never any implication in
anything, and certainly you sit through the movie and there's no notion
whatsoever that he had anything inappropriate to do with these kids. But if I
were a parent and I heard that the clown I was going to hire had a family
history like that, I probably wouldn't hire him, and that's just natural.
There's a discomfort that would come out of it. If the father were a
murderer, it would even be different from being a pedophile because you're
talking about kids.

There's so much that comes with writing about people or exposing people to the
public eye. When I was doing a profile years ago of someone who was in a
religious position, you know, of stature in his community, he grew to feel
very comfortable with me. I mean, one day he said to me, `Do you want to come
meet my mistress?' And I thought, `Well, now I really don't know what to do.'
Part of me was thinking, `Well, this is great for my story. I mean, here this
guy is standing in his community as somebody who's of some position in a
religious, fairly conservative community, and he's introducing me to his
mistress?' You know, this was overwhelming.

I didn't know what to do. Did I want to have his wife read in The New Yorker
story about him that he was having an affair? I didn't know if I really felt
that I could put myself in that position morally. I mean, no matter what, as
a writer, you still have to be a moral person and make decisions. It would
have been good for the story. It would have added an element that would have
been really interesting. I couldn't do it. If I had heard that David
Friedman's father was a pedophile, you know, to return to that, what would I
have done? I just...

GROSS: Well, what would you have done? Do you think you would have written
the story?

Ms. ORLEAN: Yes, I would have written the story and I would have folded it in
with a great deal of delicacy because I don't think it's fair to imply that
he--I mean, it's very much in the American tradition that you don't hold
someone responsible for acts committed by members of their family. Would it
have affected his business? Probably, except I think--I don't know. I guess
this is the great question in being a writer and your moral obligations to
your subjects and the fundamental inability to ever know the truth and your
need to kind of acknowledge that in your writing.

GROSS: Susan Orlean writes profiles for The New Yorker and is the author of
"The Orchid Thief." We'll hear more of our interview later this week.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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