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Oscar-Winning Film Told Story of Terror


In awarding the Oscar for best documentary two years ago to "One Day in September," many Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters clearly sought to send a message--to revive interest in how and why the Palestinian terrorist attack on 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games came to be, and in the sheer brutality of the way the Israelis were attacked, held hostage and, ultimately, died.

Since then, the movie has been seen worldwide. In Sydney, for instance, during the 2000 Summer Games, it was shown in a theater in Circular Quay, steps from the famed Opera House

The movie has served as a training film of sorts: Craig Arnold, the leader of the Kansas City FBI unit that served as the SWAT team on call during the 2002 Winter Games, made certain his 12-man squad watched it before taking up positions in Salt Lake.

In Germany, where the story of what happened in 1972 had for years been muted, the film in February 2001 was awarded that nation's Golden Camera award for best international film. Two months after that, a negligence lawsuit brought by families of the 11 slain Israelis against German authorities was settled.

The movie traces the story from the initial hostage-taking through the firefight. It also includes interviews with, among others, the sole surviving Palestinian terrorist, Jamal al-Gashey, who has been in hiding for more than 25 years.

Army Archerd, the longtime Variety columnist, said in a reference to producer Arthur Cohn, "He and the academy stood alone on the mountaintop proclaiming what an injustice had been done and that such injustice should never be done again. Those scenes from that movie--I don't think we can ever eradicate them from our minds, how those athletes were massacred and how that was allowed to happen."

Of Oscar voters, Archerd added: "There is a very large percentage of voters of the academy who are most interested in seeing that films say something of import. Film is the most powerful tool the country has internationally, and the sincere members of the academy--and there are many--want to see those products receive their due."

Echoed Tom O'Neil, an author and expert on Oscar voting, "In a few categories--like documentary and foreign film--the voters actually have to see everything nominated to vote. There are screenings set up that are policed and monitored. These are races where buzz and popularity and sentiment have no effect at all. If something wins, it wins because it has merit, impact and relevance."

Cohn, who lives in Basel, Switzerland and whose other Oscar-winning films include "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" and "Black and White in Color," said: "People around the world ... think the academy is there to honor Julia Roberts or Barbra Streisand or Steven Spielberg.

"What is overlooked, and not known, is that the academy ... has an absolute desire to push those films not recognized so they should be seen and recognized worldwide."

He added, "For the Germans to honor a film that is so critical of Germans is incredible." It shows, he said, "decency and a respect for a story that needed to be told."

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