One Day In September tries to redefine documentary

With Israeli-Palestinian tensions flaring, One Day In September, a new documentary from director Kevin MacDonald, could not be more timely. The film, which seeks to redefine the way documentaries are seen, is a look at the 1972 Palestinian terrorist attack at the Munich Olympic Games.

The film opens with clips from a 1970s travel video of Germany, extolling the virtues of German society. Participants in the Munich Games then discuss how security was intentionally lax in 1972, because of the public outrage from the last Olympics held in Germany in 1936 – later dubbed the Nazi Olympics.

MacDonald does something unique in documentary film making by building a secondary narrative, that of Jamal Gashey, one of the members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Viewers learn through his interview how the group planned out the plot that would leave 11 Israeli athletes dead by the time it ended.

MacDonald intentionally withholds information from the audience, creating a dramatic effect usually associated with feature films.

We wanted the audience to respond in a visceral way, to make the film entertaining, MacDonald said in a phone interview. In order for it to work, we had to give it something that you would find in feature films.

On top of building a dramatic narrative, MacDonald also incorporated a soundtrack into the movie. He got permission to use Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, the only time the band has agreed to let the song be used for a soundtrack since its own The Song Remains the Same.

The sequence where we use `Immigrant Song’ is just a fantastic piece of photo montage, said MacDonald, although he did note that it was not easy convincing the band to hand over the rights.

Despite the controversy the film is sure to cause because of the timing of its release, MacDonald said that it is not a political film.

I would hate to think that anyone would use the film to justify anything, MacDonald said. We have been accused by some sides that we didn’t show enough political analysis, but that wasn’t our point. We wanted to tell the story in the best way we could, to show how fascinating and frightening it was.

This film was no easy piece of work for MacDonald. Convincing Gashey to come out of hiding took nearly two years because there have been many attempts to kill the only surviving member of the Black September group. That two years of convincing yielded 30 minutes of usable interview footage, MacDonald said.

The shear amount of material, doing it on a shoestring, and doing it on deadline all added up, MacDonald said, noting that during the last week of production he only got 8 hours of sleep in four days.

The only downfall of the film is that it never reaches a real climax. This happened because MacDonald was unable to locate film shot at the airport where German security finally caught up with the Palestinian terrorists. Although the viewer knows what happens in the end, the film is still shocking as it reveals how little effort the German government put into its rescue attempt. The fact that events portrayed in the film are real makes the documentary even more shocking, and definitely worth seeing.

One Day In September opens in select theaters in December.

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