Twenty-eight years is a long span of time, but it’s also fairly short time for the most horrific tragedy in Olympics history to be all but forgotten — which is what the Palestinian terrorist kidnapping and murder of 11 Isræli athletes during in the 1972 Summer Games has become over time. Kevin MacDonald’s shocking and disturbing film, the winner of this year’s Academy Award for Documentary Feature, not only reminds viewers of the harrowing events that day in September but sheds light on a disturbing domino effect of negligence and incompetence that could have easily been avoided.
No one gets off easily; one is actually left to decide who comes off worse. There’s the German government, who was so eager to clean the Nazi taint that they provided lax security in the form of a troop of weaponless guards sporting gaudy baby blue blazers. Then there is the International Olympic Committee, who callously allowed the Games to go on while the athletes were held hostage in their room at Olympic Village. One also mustn’t forget the drunken American athletes who unwittingly let the terrorists into the compound while sneaking home after curfew. And that is only the beginning.
Of course, the film condemns any act of terrorism, but some sense of balance is offered by a major coup: an exclusive interview by the only surviving member of the so-called “Black September” group, Jamal al Gashey. Unrepentant to this day as he lives in constant fear for his life, Al Gashey is a monstrous but no less fascinating figure. With potent comments such as Al Gashey’s at his disposal, MacDonald wisely doesn’t feel the need to trump up the melodrama through a glut of tear-soaked talks with victims’ family members or overblown narration (Michæl Douglas delivers the sparse voiceover). He simply lets the often-startling facts speak for themselves, and what a powerful and unforgettable statement they indeed make.