What I wanted to do with One Day In September was to make a
documentary different than anything I had seen before: a
documentary thriller, one that would work as a film at the
cinema. I wanted it to have a strong narrative grip and to pull
the emotions of the audience, while at the same time
investigating and revealing the extraordinary facts behind this
event in a detailed and trustworthy way.
One of the key things that piqued my interest as a filmmaker
was the morbid connection between sport and murder. In some ways
the Munich massacre was the ultimate transgression -the
destruction of an ideal of peace and brotherhood. But as we are
now only too well aware the Olympic movement is not as pure as
snow - nor was it ever. In fact Avery Brundage, President of the
IOC in 1972 was instrumental in the success of the 1936 so-called
Nazi Olympics, persuading the US delegation to attend in the face
of political opposition.
He was friendly with Hitler and - in perhaps the first
recorded case of IOC bribery - his construction company in the US
was given the contract to build the new Germany embassy in
Washington, as a reward for his help. There is, in other words, a
cynical, even sinister, aspect to a sporting event like the
Olympics -and perhaps even to the sportsmen and women who take
part -that I was interested in exploring.
Perhaps the biggest problem we faced in making the film was
simply to get people to talk on camera. For instance, it took 6
months of persuasion and arm twisting to get Zvi Zamir, the
ex-head of Mossad to agree to an interview. In Germany in
particular there was a general reluctance to talk -a reluctance
that naturally fueled our sense that something major was being
It took almost a year to get Hans Dietrich Gensher (then
German Minister of the Interior, who has never previously talked
in public at all about Munich) to do a brief interview -in which
he agreed to cover only very limited ground and refused to speak
in English, a language in which he is fluent. An order was sent
to all serving members of the Bavarian police not to speak to us.
Retired policemen and women were threatened with loss of their
The one ex- policeman who agreed to talk - Heinz Hohensinn -
did so only because he had no pension to lose. Even so, he told
us that pressure was applied by ex-colleagues to stop him from
talking. In the end we managed to get just about everybody we
wanted on camera - although there were several minor players,
such as the marksmen and helicopter pilots who were
unpersuadable, "why should I be the first one to stick my
neck out?" one of them told me.
From the outset I wanted One Day In September to tell the
story of Munich from every perspective - including that of the
Palestinians. My initial enquiries directed at official PLO
sources met with a stony silence. I was not even sure if anyone
was left alive. I heard rumours that one, none or all three of
the Palestinian survivors of Munich were alive - perhaps in Latin
America, the Gulf or Africa.
But through a series of lucky meetings (which I am reluctant
to go into in too much detail, for obvious reasons) I found
myself in contact with a Palestinian who knew all about the three
survivors because he had grown up with them in the Chatila camp
in Beirut. This man was able to tell me definitively that only
one, Jamal al Gashey (his real name, like that of his colleagues,
was not previously known) was still alive. The other two had been
killed by the Israelis in the late seventies. He took me to meet
their families, and the families of other members of the Black
September squad. Many of them were still living in refugee camps.
Then, over the next 6 months my contact tried to persuade
Jamal to emerge from hiding and talk. We argued that only by
confronting his past would he ever be able to escape it. Now was
the time to talk, as the monumental tide of peace rolled in
slowly but inevitably over the Middle East. He agreed. Several
meetings were arranged and cancelled at the last moment. Twice I
flew to destinations in the Middle East to rendezvous with him
and he did not show up. Finally, in May last year (1998), Jamal
travelled to Aman to do the interview. He was deeply paranoid and
found it very difficult talking publicly about what he had done.
With frequent diversions, tantrums and non-sequiturs, it took
almost 8 hours to record only 30 minutes of usable interview.