CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS: Constructing Reality in Documentary

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An extraordinary example of a film that was able to create a powerful story which made the audience think about the topic without questioning the facts laid in front of them was Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing The Friedmans. This film takes a look at the case of Arnold Friedman and his son Jesse where they were accused and charged with multiple accounts of child molestation.

Documentary theorists have often been troubled by the convention of a documentary being a mimic or representation of reality. It is a difficult concept to analyse or make sense of and it denotes a sense of un-trustworthiness and fabrication. Despite this, it is exactly what a documentary is and should be – an interpretation of a point in time that relays a certain perspective of an event that is, hopefully, unbiased and based on facts.

A notable theorist on documentaries, Bill Nichols wrote in one of his studies “when documentary films are at their best, a sense of urgency brushes aside our efforts to contemplate form or analyze rhetoric” which fits the aim of this article perfectly. What about this sense of urgency makes a documentary sweep its audience into a false sense of factual security and stops them from questioning what they are watching (Nichols, 1991).

The film examines the case and questions whether the two men were actually guilty of the crimes they were charged with. At first watch, the film creates a compelling case and although it doesn’t present its two subjects as innocent, it clearly sets out to make the audience question whether they could be.

In this specific documentary, the power to do this has mainly manifested from clever construction in style and form. The style and structure of a film not only helps create an interesting and engaging film for the audience but also plays a large part in influencing people to believe the constructed reality on screen.

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