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Narrated by Michael Douglas, the feature-length documentary “One Day in September” covers many aspects of the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Narrated by Michael Douglas, the feature-length documentary “One Day in September” covers many aspects of the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

 

The Oscar-winning film by Kevin Macdonald combines personal stories with bureaucratic ineptitude, horror with resilience.

 

The film relies on a wealth of archival material to detail the events of Sept. 5, 1972, when eight members of Black September snuck past virtually non-existent security at the Olympic Village to take 11 Israelis hostage.

 

The terrorists, led by a man named “Issa” who appears on camera repeatedly, killed two Israelis at the outset of the crisis, holding nine others as they negotiated with German officials for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. After 21 hours, the situation tragically ended with the deaths of all hostages, one German policeman, and five of the eight terrorists.

 

The story is largely framed by Ankie Spitzer, the widow of Andre Spitzer, Israel’s fencing coach who was captured, later talked to the world briefly from the window of his seized room, and was killed during Germany’s botched rescue operation.

 

Ankie recounts Andre’s love of sport and his belief in the Olympic ideal. One of the documentary’s most poignant moments is Ankie’s story of Andre—against her protests—approaching the Lebanese Olympic team. To her surprise and his delight, goodwill reigned.

 

Jim McKay of ABC Sports also appears frequently in the documentary, as the filmmakers relied on his unwavering and landmark coverage of the situation.

 

Also on hand to witness the events were Peter Jennings, then ABC’s Middle East correspondent who had gone to cover Munich as a “break” from Middle East affairs, and ITN’s Gerald Seymour.

 

“In a sense,” says Seymour in the documentary, “you were looking down into the cockpit of world events.”

 

The voluminous media coverage served the filmmakers well, who use endless supporting photographic and filmic materials, as well as interviews with Israeli team members who escaped, German officials who tried to negotiate, and—amazingly—Jamal Al Gashey.

 

Al Gashey is the only surviving Munich terrorist. The three terrorists who survived the shootout at Fürstenfeldbruck Airfield were later released by the German government when a Lufthansa jet was hijacked (many have questioned the politics behind this incident). Two of the terrorists were later killed in a counter-terrorism operation by Israel, but Al Gashey has survived.

 

He speaks with the filmmakers in shadow, wearing a hat and sunglasses, describing his special training in Libya, the operation itself, and what he thinks today.

 

“I’m proud of what I did at Munich because it helped the Palestinian cause enormously,” he says.

 

The documentary rivets the viewer for several reasons: the way in which the tension mounts as German officials try to manage the crisis; the surprising reaction of the International Olympic Committee; the horrible unpreparedness and ineptitude of authorities; and the quality of the production.

 

Just when you think the situation can’t get worse, it does. Just when you think the authorities might get a grip and do the right thing, they don’t. And along the way is Jim McKay, trying to make heads or tails of “the Olympics of terror,” as he called them during his broadcast.

 

The filmmakers might have done a better job at identifying their interviewees, especially the German officials, and a comment or two about how they came to get Al Gashey on camera certainly seems warranted.

 

The project, just like the event itself, builds to a disturbing and graphic conclusion, though that is tempered somewhat by the appearance of Anouk Spitzer.

 

Andre and Ankie Spitzer’s daughter, who was born just prior to the 1972 Olympics, places sunflowers at her father’s grave, reminding us all that Sept. 5 will never be forgotten.

 

The documentary offers those who remember the tragedy a look behind the scenes at events and facts they never knew, and it can introduce a new generation to a simmering conflict that unfolded before the world’s eyes one day in September … years before 2001.

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

MPAA Rating: R for some graphic violent images. Reviewer’s Note: Those graphic images include the dead bodies of hostages and terrorists.

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Producers: John Battsek and Arthur Cohn

Narrator: Michael Douglas

 

The movie’s official Web site is here.

 

Also read:

 

Book Review: ‘Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team’

Movie Review: ‘Sword of Gideon’

News: Spielberg Making Film About 1972 Munich Attack

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