One Day in September

And the winner is: Producer Arthur Cohn and director Kevin Macdonald accept their Best Feature Documentary Oscar.
dir Kevin Macdonald
with Michael Douglas, Jamal Al Gashey, Ankie Spitzer, Gerald Seymour, Shmuel Lalkin, Manfred Schreiber, Walther Troger, Zvi Zamir, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Ulrich K Wegener, Schlomit Romano
99/UK 2 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
This Oscar-winning documentary is an anatomy of a terrorist action, namely the kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli Olympians at the Munich 1972 Summer Games. One Day in September approaches its subject with such minute attention to detail that the film becomes a thriller as we watch terrorists, victims, police and the international community act and react over a very tense 24-hour period. Besides collecting some remarkable never-before-seen footage, the filmmakers' main stroke of genius was to track down the only surviving terrorist (Al Gashey), who narrates events from his point of view. This gives the film a startling contrast as we hear running commentary from the terrorist himself alongside, press reports at the time and then the film's hindsight-tinged narration (by Douglas). And it's in this disturbing insight that the film works best.

Where it doesn't succeed is in its heavy-handed attempts to milk sentiment from the story, which frankly is powerful enough on its own. But no, we have widows and orphans of the victims eulogising their husbands and fathers. We see the gruesome aftermath of violence in extreme close-up. And we also have a serious amount of German-bashing, as the film analyses all of their cock-ups microscopically (including computer-generated re-creations of the disastrous final confrontation). Sure, the situation was handled very badly from start to finish, but a proper documentary would simply present the facts without casting judgement. The interviewees, not the filmmaker, should draw conclusions. This desperate need to cast blame seems biased and unnecessary ... and it has the nerve to shift the guilt away from the terrorists themselves.

Even so, the sheer level of detail makes this film definitely worth seeing--whether or not you remember the events themselves. It's gripping and extremely well-constructed, capturing palpably the tension and awfulness of that day when what should have been a peaceful celebration of world spirit turned far more horrific than anyone could have imagined.

[15--strong themes, violence] 18.Apr.00
UK release 19.May.00; US release 17.Nov.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall