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One Day in September is a 1999 documentary film directed by Kevin Macdonald examining the September 5, 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletesmarker at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munichmarker, Germanymarker. Michael Douglas provides the sparse narration throughout the film.

The film won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2000.

Subject matter

The documentary begins with an advertisement by the Munich Tourism Bureau with a beautiful young girl inviting the world to visit the city for the Olympics, then shows interviews with the wives of some of the murdered athletes, including Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer. The film also features the first known filmed interview with Jamal Al-Gashey, allegedly the only surviving terrorist. Al-Gashey, who is in hiding in Africa, wears a cap and sunglasses and his face is slightly blurred.

There are various shots of the Games getting under way, and attention is given to the lax security the Germans had at the Games. The terrorists are seen preparing for the assault; Al-Gashey claims that he and the other members were trained in Libyamarker before going to West Germanymarker to begin the assault.

The assault is described by Al-Gashey as well as by some of the German security staff present. Footage of ABC anchor Jim McKay is interspersed, along with sound clips of Peter Jennings, to give an impression of events unfolding as they happened. General Ulrich Wegener, founder of the German counter-terrorist unit GSG 9, was also interviewed during the film, and was roundly criticized for his seemingly flippant attitude about the subject matter.

The film offers evidence to the allegation that the rescue operation was poorly planned and executed: the snipers were not prepared and were poorly positioned. The film implies that had the German government prepared better, the athletes might have been saved. Former Mossad Director Zvi Zamir, who was present at the airport during the final gunfight, is interviewed about his views on the failed rescue (he had previously been interviewed on this subject in an NBC profile of the Munich massacre broadcast during the Barcelona Olympics). Potential viewers should note that graphic photographs of the dead Israelis and Palestinians are shown at the end of this section in a photo-montage set to the Deep Purple song Child in Time.

The film also alleges that the October 29 hijacking of a German Lufthansamarker jet and its subsequent release in exchange for the three Black September members being held for trial was a set-up by the German government, who did not want their failings to be made obvious in the trial.

Criticisms

After the movie's release, film critic Roger Ebert penned a review recommending the movie, praising Cohn's exhaustive research, but he also criticized the style of the film and the lack of information as to why the Palestinian's carried out the raid. He also criticized the film's "tasteless conclusion", which was a montage of action shots and photos of victim's corpses with a rock music score. He continued these criticisms after the movie received an Academy Award, pointing out how the filmmaker had (in his opinion) subverted the Academy laws. Joe Berlinger, director of such acclaimed documentaries as Brother's Keeper and Paradise Lost, joined Ebert in criticizing Arthur Cohn's method of screening his film for "friendly audiences".

Notes



Companion book

  • Reeve, Simon (New York, 2001), One Day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre and the Israeli operation 'Wrath of God' ISBN 1-55970-547-7


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