September 5, 1972 was an unforgettable day in Munich, Germany. Here the Olympics were held in Germany for the first time since 1933. But this isn’t why this fateful day is remembered.
On this day, a radical Palestinian group called “Black September” took hostage 11 Israeli Olympic athletes. The shocking events that unfold are vividly displayed in Kevin Macdonald’s documentary, “One Day in September.”
As the 1999 Academy Award winner for best documentary, “One Day in September” is a film that transforms the hostage crisis into a personal tragedy, encouraging emotional connection and sympathy.
Macdonald turns a historical event into an intimate, captivating story by using the style of a thriller.
In 1972, the media was the only form of information people around the world could rely on to bring news of the crisis. In the documentary, the same media archival footage is used to give the audience an hour-to-hour update. Not knowing what the ultimate outcome will be, the film’s audience is kept in suspense, forced to endure the same dread and anxiety that the world endured in September of 1972.
As the documentary progresses, and time is inevitably running out, the audience begins to realize the results will be inescapably grim. The main contributing factor to this fate is the German government’s complete incompetence.
For the 1972 Olympics, the West Germans wanted to be viewed as a democratic state, rather than the Nazi regime they were when the last Olympics were held in their country. Because of this, there was little security, bleak communication and total lack of structure. The German government acted ineffectively to the crisis, resulting in numerous inconceivable blunders.
Over 20 years after the event took place, Macdonald was able to acquire amounts of archival material and fresh interviews to convey the proceedings of that day. Amazingly, Macdonald filmed an exclusive interview of Jamal Al Gashey, the only surviving Palestinian terrorist from the crisis. Gashey, now hiding in Africa, gives key information unknown to the public until the film was released.
Kevin Macdonald’s film, “One Day in September,” is a compelling documentation of the horrific occurrence at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The film accomplishes what few documentaries can achieve — it both educates and entertains its viewers. Many historical films fail to grasp the audience’s attention, yet “One Day in September” brings the Munich Olympics vividly to life so the viewer feels as if it is occurring in the present.
Macdonald’s film does more than just educate, it brings out the raw human emotion in us all. The tactics used by the director help connect the audience to the subjects of the film. The Israeli hostages are presented as very real people whom others loved and cared for, making the event all the more meaningful.
“One Day in September” is a paramount documentary for its genre. This is story telling at its best.
Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at email@example.com.