Kevin Macdonald’s Oscar-winning documentary ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER brilliantly examines what happened at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
“They’re all gone.” says the ABC News reporter who’s been covering the darkest moment in the history of the Olympic Games since it unfolded. The overly bright studio lights making his yellow jacket glow even brighter, somewhat at odds with the dreadful news he has to impart. It’s one of the many extraordinary moments in the rightly Oscar-winning documentary ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER by director Kevin Macdonald that stay with you, long after seeing it. With the Olympics Games just around the corner in London and after reading a recent news article on Munich 1972, it’s sobering to think that so many years have passed since the event that has been termed as ‘the Munich massacre’.
Starting with a jolly German advert that was used at the time to highlight how wonderful a place Munich was to be hosting the summer Olympics that year, the documentary segues into a dark montage of images that give an ominous feeling of how the day was possibly going to end. Two people are primarily focused on in Macdonald’s film – Ankie Spitzer, the widow of one of the athletes from the Israeli team and Jamal Al-Gashey, the last surviving member of the Palestinian ‘Black September’ terrorist group that stormed into the Olympic village that day.
It’s a fascinating way to examine this story and to hear these two people speak about their respective lives before September 5, 1972, and also how they felt as the events took place. For Spitzer, it’s the remembrance of just over a year married to a man who was “at peace with himself” and for Al-Gashey it was the chance to be part of “something big“. Ankie Spitzer has since campaigned tirelessly to have her husband’s memory and the memory of the other 10 murdered athletes, formally acknowledged at subsequent Games ceremonies but like that day, when it was well into the afternoon before the Olympic Committee finally bowed to pressure from people around the world to halt the Games, they just don’t want to remember that event.
ONE DAY IN SEPTEMBER for me is right up there with When We Were Kings as one of the best documentaries ever made. With simple and understated narration by Michael Douglas and from the recollections of reporters, policemen, Mossad agents and children of the athletes who’ve never really known their fathers, it shows you a moment in time that we should all remember.