British media coverage of the Oscars focused almost exclusively on the triumphs of Sam Mendes and Michael Caine. Yet there was another UK success story in One Day In September, winner of the Best Documentary gong. The lack of attention it received is symptomatic of the undervaluing of documentaries in our film culture, but this inventive and gripping example of the genre will help reset the balance.
One Day In September has already attracted controversy. Its subject matter - - innocent Israelis being murdered by Arab terrorists on German soil - - is a hugely emotive one. Because it's a true life account that's structured more like a race-against-the-clock conspiracy thriller - - only with real lives at stake - - it incensed the Berlin Film Festival panel, who apparently described it as a "disgrace to documentary film-making".
They couldn't be more wrong, because director Kevin Macdonald has fashioned a fast-moving, edge-of-the-seat story which zeroes in on the human dimension to these terrible and tragic events.
Particularly noteworthy is the wide range of interviewees Macdonald has managed to track down. There are the widows and children of Israeli victims, a former chief of Mossad, various high-ranking West German officials, and even the one remaining Palestinian terrorist, Jamal Al Gashey, who now lives in permanent hiding.
While pinpointing the cravenness of Olympic officials in their response to the crisis, the film also systematically undermines the notion of German efficiency and organisation. Macdonald uncovers a catalogue of incompetence that leaves you saddened and stunned.
Snapping all the rules of stuffy documentaries, One Day In September deserves to find as big an audience as any Hollywood multiplexer.
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A compelling account of one of the blackest episodes in Olympic history, Macdonald's Oscar-winning documentary-thriller is impressively assembled. A human tragedy is laid bare, with powerful and at times painful immediacy.