All Things September: Kevin Macdonald’s “One Day in September”

olympic_lore_munich_1972_terroristWelcome to our newest feature, “All Things (insert month here)”, in where during the last 15 days of each month I’ll try to see as many films as I can which feature the name of the month in the title. It’s September, so time to give my two cents on Kevin Macdonald‘s excellent documentary from 1999, One Day in September.

Before he made such nail biters as the non-fictional Mount Everest tale of survival in Touching the Void (2003), and the based on true events Ugandan atrocities depicted in The Last King of Scotland (2006) Kevin Macdonald had already proved his worth as an expert craftsman in unfolding non-fictional events in thrilling and suspenseful ways. His documentary on the 1972 Munich olympics crisis, in where nine Palestinian terrorists held eleven Israeli Olympians hostage at gunpoint, is such a film.

The story – for those who don’t know – details a hostage situation, the events leading up to it, and the subsequent bloody resolution. Adding more insight and depth to this story however are two other key elements; the irresponsible press, and the equally irresponsible and inexperienced negotiation and criminal fighting tactics of the German authorities. Macdonald exposes these elements – along with the entire overall story – in a straightforward and chronological way, making me feel as if I were transplanted in 1972 myself and made to watch the drama unfurl itself in a highlighted clipped realtimey sort of way.

Through archival news footage, interviews from public officials involved at the time, surviving family members of victims, as well as the lone surviving terrorist, choice musical selections that juxtapose the hostage scenario with that of olympic sports clips, and the added inclusion of some voice familiarity with narration by Michael Douglas, I couldn’t help but be engrossed at every step of the way.

Macdonald tells the events of that infamous day in such a cogently coherent fashion that regardless of what horrifying images awaited me I was unable to look away. In a film where every single thing about its story is tragic, fortunately the 90 minutes I spent learning about it wasn’t. Truly enthralling filmmaking.

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