One Day in September (1999)

Rating: B-

Dir: Kevin Macdonald

5th September isn’t just’s birthday, it’s also the anniversary of the 1972 Munich massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists took 11 Israelis captive in the Olympic village. It ended in tragedy after a shootout at a nearby airport, with all the hostages dead; this documentary looks at events through a combination of newsreel footage and interviews with relatives of the victims and, a real coup, the surviving attacker. [Israeli hit teams having taken care of the others – as well as a stray waiter in Norway!] This makes for a surprisingly balanced depiction – the group coming in for most stick is German security, whose actions often border on the blackly comical. They didn’t know how many terrorists there were, shot their own men in the final battle, and even set up an assault, unaware until the last minute that the Palestinians could see every move, live on TV.

The film is oddly bad at identifying speakers, and leaves out some important points e.g. it tells how a terrorist threw a grenade into a helicopter, without saying the hostages had been moved in there! It nods to German collusion in a subsequent hijack, during which the captured terrorists were exchanged, but ignores claims that some of the Israeli “officials” were actually security personnel. If occasionally sinking into cliches, such as laying flowers on graves, it remains a fascinating story from a more naive age, with moments of stark power, especially when it simply lets the images speak for themselves.