Now that I have discussed the background of both The Jinx and Capturing the Friedmans, I want to talk about Jarecki’s style. I also want to preface this by saying that even though I am calling his ethical integrity into question, Jarecki may be my favorite documentary filmmaker. He makes great documentaries that don’t force me to sleep, like many do. I know that a lot of the intrigue is rooted in his subject matter and the investigative nature of his films. But, now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about his influences.
Jarecki is certainly not the first documentary filmmaker who uses his work as an outlet for truth-seeking and to, more specifically, challenge court rulings. He is clearly influence by Errol Morris’s film, The Thin Blue Line, (also previously discussed in a post) particularly in how he frames some of the evidence that is less than solid.
Let’s take for example how Jarecki introduces an interviewee who was in one of Arnold Friedman’s computer classes and testified to having been sexually abused by Arnold and Jesse. This scene particularly stood out to me because it was one of the first scenes that made me doubt their guilt. To mask this person’s identity, his face is in shadows, but the rest of his body is visible as he lays in a semi-provocative pose on a couch. It’s all very strange and hard to explain, but if you watch the documentary, you will know exactly what I mean.
Why would you stage a victim of sexual assault like this? You wouldn’t, unless you were trying the make them look foolish. And that is exactly what Jarecki did. He also undercuts him, by asking him two questions that resulted in conflicting responses. First, he asked if the boy (who is now a man at the making of the documentary) if he ever saw another boy abused in front of him. His answer was “no;” he said that all sexual activity took place in a private room. Jarecki then asks him what types of sexual acts he saw go on. He responds by listing group activities such as a totally horrific and twisted version of leapfrog in which the boys were raped one by one, all in plain sight of one another. When Jarecki calls his attention to how that is contradictory to what he previously said, it clearly catches the interviewee off-guard. The effect of this is that the viewer seriously starts to question the validity of one of the key witnesses which impacts the overall picture.
This is Jarecki’s exact tactic in the Jinx. He essentially tricks Robert Durst into confessing, by presenting him with the letters, one written by the killer, and one written by him. When he cannot tell the difference between the two, he becomes anxious and appears to look severely guilty. Although in this case, he is calling attention to his subject’s guilt rather than trying to prove his innocence, he is still remaining true to his shady, though effective form of questioning. But this is his prerogative as a storyteller, to try to get to the truth and tell his story as he pleases. Or is it? Especially when someone’s reputation is on the line.
So let’s assume that Jarecki enters into both of these films with the mindset of turning the verdict of the cases over; he wants to prove Friedman innocent and Durst guilty (which I would guess he already thought Durst was, based on how he interpreted him in the movie All Good Things.) Does that mean he is going to ask only the questions that he knows will yield responses he is looking for? If he were to hold himself to the code of journalism ethics, however, he would need to be partial in his pursuit of the truth and be sure to trace all avenues and sides of the stories before framing someone as a criminal or a criminal as innocent.
I watched a YouTube video that looks at what Capturing the Friedmans left out and also read over a semi-recent article that examines how Jesse is pretty much 100% guilty of the crimes he was accused of. Both of these sources view Jarecki’s film as propaganda that misleads the audience. The video lists important pieces of information left out from the film that blatantly point to Jesse and Arnold’s guilt. Check it out, if you’ve watched the documentary already. Otherwise, it probably won’t make much sense:
I’ll just summarize some of the important parts of both pieces…basically the video uncovers that Jarecki left out an entire interview from around the time when Jesse was sentenced in which he confessed, in detail, to having committed the acts of abuse. And here’s a quote that pretty much sums up the essence of the entire article from The New York Daily News:
“The Nassau County DA’s office blasted the 2003 film “Capturing the Friedmans” as misleading, and accused the moviemakers of interfering with the probe they were responsible for reopening. The report said the filmmakers misrepresented comments from an investigator and the judge presiding over the case, and took at face value comments by one victim that he was “hypnotized,” when there’s no evidence of such.
The report also claimed filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling would not hand over some of the evidence under their control, and refused to hand over the unedited versions of interviews with Jesse Friedman, his family members and another co-defendant in the case.
Jarecki told the Daily News his investigation was far more thorough than the DA’s “superficial” probe. He said they provided investigators with more than 1,700 pages of exonerating evidence, and “they never even asked us a single question about it.”
(Read the entire article at : http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/jesse-friedman-100-guilty-child-abuse-article-1.1380786)
Withholding evidence was also the problem Jarecki ran into with The Jinx. The confession used at the end of the documentary should have been handed over to the authorities, rather than held for the sake of including it in the film for the effect.
So, with all of this being said, I can’t really answer my question of whether or not he should be more ethical in terms of how he is telling his story. However, I can say that when I watch his next film, I will be more wary in what I take from the story based on how he skews it. After all, even though he is telling someone else’s real life story, he has creative licensing to tell it how he wishes as the director. First and foremost he is a filmmaker; he just happens to also operate in the realm of journalistic issues.