Andrew Jarecki's debut feature is a devastating portrait of the collapse of an American family, not to mention a fascinating meditation on film, memory, and truth. Jarecki's project originally started out as a documentary on David Friedman, Manhattan's most popular party clown. As he dug deeper into his subject, however, Jarecki struck gold, unearthing the messy pedophilia scandal that destroyed the Friedman family. Jarecki's serendipity did not end there: In addition to being a compelling subject, the Friedmans turned out to have been inveterate home-video hounds. Comprised of old Friedman footage, news clips from the period, and recent interviews with the family, the movie proves to be a remarkable work of assemblage. Jarecki reconstructs the events that led to the imprisonment of Arnold, the Friedmans' patriarch, and Jesse, one of the three Friedman boys, on sexual abuse charges. Rummaging through the family's attic, Jarecki cobbles together an incisive document that suggests that the two were victims of a media feeding frenzy and mass hysteria in their Great Neck, NY, community. No less an act of distortion is David's father worship. Years after the scandal, the eldest of the Friedman sons still remains convinced of his father's decency -- despite Arnold's undisputed possession of child pornography and his own admission that he had committed pedophilia twice before (but never in Great Neck). A study of the American obsession with personal drama and the examined life, Capturing the Friedmans also emerges as a Rashomon-like rumination on the slippery nature of truth. The closer Jarecki looks, it seems, the less we see. While Jarecki's manipulative editing begs the question of just how much of that obscurity is the director's work, the awful drama of the Freidmans' downfall is unmistakably genuine. Jarecki's stabs at metaphysical import may be transparent at times, but it hardly mars the emotional impact of this heartbreaking film.