From the Instructor

In WR 100: Documentary Film: History, Theory, and Form, we study a range of documentary films and the formal and ethical choices that shape them. Ethics are central to the documentary Capturing the Friedmans in a number of ways, from the lurid crimes allegedly committed by two members of the Friedman family to the potential exploitation of the film’s subjects by the filmmaker, Andrew Jarecki. Ben Eisen’s essay makes a genuine contribution to the scholarship on the film, arguing that the film’s ethical lapses have some redeeming value for the Friedmans. This is the final paper that he wrote for my seminar, and the assignment was intentionally undefined to prepare students for the more open-ended assignments that they’ll encounter in future classes. I asked students to generate a question about any of our films, and they had to draw on evidence from the film and any of our semester’s many readings to answer it.

Two students and I critiqued an early version of this paper in a group conference. Each of us admired the general argument that Ben was pursuing, but we struggled to understand some sections. The reason, as one student so clearly put it, is that Ben’s sentences were “pretty” but “easy to get lost in.” The version that you see here is the fourth or fifth draft. With each revision, he tightened his language and, in the process, clarified his own thinking. In this way, this paper is a testament not just to Ben’s creativity and discipline, but to the value of extensive feedback. Indeed, the excellent students in his WR 100 seminar helped to form and refine Ben’s argument so that you would enjoy reading it as much as they did.


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