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One Day in September

Kevin MacDonald

A deserving winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Feature Documentary, this ‘documentary thriller’ (so described by director Kevin MacDonald) is not only a compelling example of investigative journalism but a terrific piece of film-making by any standard. One Day in September follows the course of events over the twenty-one hours on September 5th,1972, when a specially trained squad of Arab terrorists, known as Black September, invaded the athletes’ village during the Munich Olympics, taking hostage, and eventually killing, eleven members of the Israeli team.

For Germany, these Olympics were designed to eradicate the memory of Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics and acknowledge the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust. The 1972 Games were also the first to be broadcast live on television, ensuring that everybody had a chance to see what must have been, for the Germans, a kind of Freudian slip of epic proportions. The events depicted became the first instance of media terrorism, with a world stage being used to put across a political message.

MacDonald’s film derives much of its strength from interviews with two key protagonists: the widow of one of the murdered athletes, and the last surviving member of the terrorist group. The interview with the widow, though poignant, avoids tugging unnecessarily at the viewer’s heartstrings, while the interview with the terrorist (the film’s greatest coup) allows him the freedom to explain his part in the proceedings, and his pride at having been involved, without editorialising. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the German officials who come off worst, with their incompetence seeming to be the primary external contributor to the tragedy. Indeed, possibly the most inflammatory argument of the film is that there was collusion between the German and Palestinian governments in securing the return of the terrorists to Palestine, a claim which no-one concerned was, according to the director, willing to state on camera. Certainly, one of the most chilling defences of individual action in the film comes from a now-retired official, who, in a neat spin on the Nuremburg trials, attempts to acquit himself by saying ‘I received no orders.’

U.K., 2000.
Colour.
Dolby stereo SR.
92 mins.

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