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For Spielberg, mum's the word still on 'Munich'

The director nixes the usual publicity blitz for his new film about the Mossad's trackdown of '72 Olympics terrorists.

November 30, 2005|Rachel Abramowitz and John Horn | Times Staff Writers

Silence -- for now.

Avoiding the customary ruckus of pre-release promotions and Academy Awards campaigning, Steven Spielberg's "Munich" will be accompanied by a remarkably quiet publicity campaign before the controversial film's Dec. 23 debut.

Spielberg and the film's cast and crew not only will steer clear of the usual TV talk shows and print interviews but also skip the countless question-and-answer screenings and cocktail parties that typically accompany a movie's Oscar pitch.

"He wants everybody not to have preconceptions, to see the movie and make up their own minds," said Marvin Levy, the director's personal publicist. Levy said that neither Spielberg nor co-screenwriter Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") nor key members of the creative team plan to speak publicly about the project or participate in the usual Oscar season screenings and filmmaker conversations.

Universal Pictures, which is releasing "Munich," will, however, show the film to awards groups and take out "for your consideration" advertisements in Hollywood's trade newspapers.

Star Eric Bana also will turn up in the pages of In Style magazine, and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski will discuss his craft in a cinematography magazine.

And Spielberg is reserving the right to change course as the film enters the public consciousness.

"When people see the film, then it could become a different matter," Levy said about whether Spielberg will eventually grant interviews.

Spielberg had been signaling for months that he intended to sideline the traditional publicity machine, and his exact game plan has become fodder for the blogosphere; news of the stealth campaign was first reported by LA Weekly.

Written by Kushner and Oscar winner Eric Roth, "Munich" tells the tale of the aftermath of the 1972 Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed after being taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September. Israel subsequently organized a squad of Mossad agents to track down and assassinate the perpetrators.

From the beginning, "Munich," Spielberg's most politically challenging work, has been shrouded in secrecy. No journalists were permitted to visit the set during its production; filming locations included Malta, Hungary, France and New York.

Levy said that Spielberg's decision to remain quiet during this pre-release period was partially shaped by "Munich's" story line, which dives straight into the animosities that have racked the Middle East for decades.

Months before its release, figures as disparate as Abu Daoud, the Palestinian terrorist who masterminded the attack, and a raft of former Mossad agents have publicly complained that their input wasn't solicited for the film.

Levy said extra security precautions were taken during filming, owing to the overseas locations and not, as some close to the production surmised, to the fraught subject matter or Spielberg's status as a prominent American Jew when anti-Semitism is still a factor throughout Europe.

To help guide the film's release strategy, Spielberg hired crisis public relations consultant Allan Mayer, former White House communications guru Mike McCurry and former presidential envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross. They were brought on, in part, to open up communication with the various constituencies who are highly interested in the film, from politicians in Israel to Jewish groups in America.

The film's debut will be preceded by an elaborate schedule of tastemaker screenings, particularly among leaders in the foreign policy establishment. Both the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine are sponsoring screenings before the film's release.

Until this week, no one, except for the editors and a handful of collaborators -- among them, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Kushner and Kaminski -- had even seen the movie. Spielberg will begin screening the film for the media next week.

So far, Spielberg, an active Democrat who usually eschews political controversy, has made only one carefully worded public comment about the film.

"Viewing Israel's response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms," he said in a statement released on the eve of principal photography earlier this year.

"By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today."

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