The terror that rocked the 1972 Olympics makes for tense viewing in KEVIN MACDONALD's Oscar-winning documentary, One Day In
September. Words: Alan Morrison
MEMORIES OF 1972'5 OLYMPIC Games in Munich. Mark Spitz swims his way to a record seven gold medals: tiny gymnast Olga Korbut wins the hearts of millions: a shootout at the airport leaves nine Israeli athletes. five Palestinian terrorists and one German policeman dead.
‘I was four at the time. so I only had a vague awareness of it.‘ says director Kevin Macdonald. ‘I knew something had happened. that some Israelis had been killed. but I didn‘t know any of the circumstances.‘ Those very circumstances are detailed in full in Macdonald‘s documentary One I)a_v In .S‘eptemher. which won the 32-year-old Scot an Oscar back in March.
Early on the morning of
5 September I972. eight Palestinians from the Black
September organisation jumped
the fence into the Olympic Village and took hostage eleven Israelis. mostly weightlifters and wrestlers. ()ne coach was killed immediately when he tried to overpower the gunmen; another later died from his wounds. Negotiations stalled as the
'Where Kevin Costner gives you the facts, we have talking head
Palestinians demanded the release of 236 political prisoners from jails across the world. The German authorities. who had hoped the games would mark the country‘s rehabilitation after World War II. were utterly unprepared for such events. Eventually the hostages and terrorists were transported to two helicopters at the airport . . . and into a disastrous ambush.
‘l was actively looking for a subject that would work for a feature documentary. something that would have the tension aspects of a thriller.’ says Macdonald. whose brother Andrew produced Trainspotting and The Beach. ‘One of the great influences on this film stylistically was Oliver Stone‘s JFK. The events at Munich and the Kennedy assassination are somehow similar: the world was watching. with cameras everywhere and crowds gathering round. Where Kevin Costner gives you the facts. we have talking head interviews.‘
Macdonald‘s commitment in getting the key participants on film is remarkable. Many were reluctant to comment on such a sensitive issue. and some were even warned off. The Bavarian police were told they’d lose their pensions. while Jamal Al Gashey. the one surviving terrorist (two others have since been killed by Israeli assassination squads). stood the director up on various occasions before agreeing to a nervous. often stormy interview session. But one of the biggest revelations Macdonald uncovered didn’t make the final cut.
‘I had an interview with one member of the Black September power hierarchy who was in some way involved in the planning of it and who‘s now a politician with the Palestinian authorities.’ says Macdonald. ‘For the first time. he admitted that the Pl.() were directly behind this. that Black September were the PLO using a cover name. In the political
ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER
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arena. that‘s major news. and if I was making Panorama. I‘d put it in. But it felt wrong in this film because he was speaking in large political cliches.
‘l concentrated instead on the personal stories and I wanted to make a film which was as objective as possible. I wanted to keep it on the human level. about the terrorist as a human being and the Israelis who were killed as human beings. A few people in Israel and in right-wing Jewish American circles have reacted very violently. saying to me: “you make out the terrorist is a human being" as though that was some big crime. And I‘m sure that some Palestinians will look at the film and say the opposite. That‘s the problem with dealing with this subject: you‘re going to get brickbats from all sides.‘
One Day In September goes on selected release Fri 9 Jun.
25 May -8 Jun 2000 THE “ST 23