|For producer John Battsek, One Day in September
was born out of the disillusionment experienced whilst producing his first film
The Serpent's Kiss and his frustration at the mediocre fare peddled at the cinema.
He had found the whole experience of producing unpleasant and thankless. But inspired
by the documentary When We Were Kings about Mohammed Ali, Battsek felt he had
to make a film in the same vein, using the STYLE and music of the time and with
the same emotional punch. "I vaguely remembered the Munich Olympics, Israeli athletes,
terrorists and horror. As a huge sports fan it seemed amazing to me that I didn't
really know what had happened. Surely if they had been American or British, we
would all know everything about it and would probably never be allowed to forget."|
For some time, Battsek had been looking for the right project to work on with a like-minded friend, Kevin Macdonald. Macdonald wanted to create something wholly original, a documentary thriller that would work at the cinema. "We wanted to make this film as accessible as possible so that this story will at last make an impression on people's memories. I wanted it to have a strong narrative and emotional grip while at the same time investigating and revealing the extraordinary facts behind this event in a detailed and trustworthy way," Macdonald recalls. Initial research revealed a truly remarkable story of mystery, conspiracy, tragedy, ineptitude and real human sadness. Much to the filmakers' amazement, it appeared to be ongoing, in so far as the families of the victims seemed to have been chasing the truth about what happened, and some sort of recognition and justice for their dead relatives ever since. They had met with nothing but total non-cooperation from all those who (one would have assumed) would want to do everything in their power to help, principally the Germans and the International Olympic Committee.
With the interest generated by their proposal, Andrew Ruhemann (Associate Producer - Passion Pictures), Macdonald and Battsek decided to risk funding a research trip to Israel in order to meet with the families of the victims and various other people who had been (and often still were) involved. However, after one of the main potential financiers pulled out, the process ground to a halt until Sandy Lieberson (an old colleague of Macdonald's) suggested that Battsek call an associate of his - veteran producer Arthur Cohn. Battsek rang Cohn, a legendary film producer and winner of 5 Academy Awards (three for feature-length documentaries), cold. Cohn politely and succinctly told him that he didn't make documentaries any more. As a parting courtesy, Cohn asked him what the subject of the film was. 24 hours later Battsek was sitting opposite Cohn in a central London hotel discussing how they were going to go about making the film. "Here was this 5 time Oscar winner, who could be pulling rank and have a huge ego, who was continually stressing how we were all a partnership, constantly asking my advice and generally really getting his hands dirty," Battsek remembers.
After initial interest from News and Current affairs at the BBC, Nick Fraser, editor of Storyville, stepped up support for the film when others at the Beeb were hesitating. "Nick was totally honest with his criticisms during editing, without ever trying to dictate and as such he helped us a great deal," Macdonald explains. Battsek followed by approaching Simon Perry and Cameron McKracken at British Screen with the project. British Screen had never previously invested in a non-drama feature, yet within a matter of days they had committed to a financial involvement in the film. The film had proved really hard to budget, since it was impossible to know who was going to pop out of the woodwork and agree to be interviewed at any point. With this type of situation, the production needed financiers who recognised that budgets could change at any moment. Cohn himself substantially financed part of the film. "Arthur also continually impressed upon us that we were making a new kind of feature film, a dramatic, thrilling and emotionally compelling feature documentary," Battsek enthuses.
Perhaps the biggest problem they faced in making the film was simply to get people to talk on camera. Setting up interviews in Israel was running fairly smoothly as the families of the victims were very co-operative from day one. Ankie Spitzer (widow of the murdered Israeli fencing coach) and her daughter Anouk both became instrumental in coaxing some of the less willing interviewees and collating all sorts of valuable information for the production. But it took six months of persuasion and arm twisting to get Zvi Zamir, the ex-head of Mossad to agree to an interview. He had been despatched to Munich by Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan to witness the events as they unfolded and had been so traumatised by what he had seen that he really did not want to be interviewed. "Zamir was key, because he could give us an official Israeli perspective on the tragedy," Macdonald explained.
In Germany there was a general reluctance to talk, which fuelled their sense that something major was being covered up. It took almost a year to get Federal Minister Hans Deitrich Gensher (who has never previously talked in public at all about Munich) to do a brief interview. He agreed to cover only very limited ground and refused to speak in English, a language in which he is fluent. In similar late fashion, interviews with Don Shilon of Israeli TV and Gerald Seymour of ITN, were also conducted. Cohn had persuaded the former head of the Munich police, Manfred Schreiber and General Ullrich Wegener, the aide de camp of Gensher. An order had been sent to all serving members of the Bavarian police not to speak to the filmmakers. Retired policemen and women were threatened with loss of their pension. The one ex-policeman who agreed to talk, Heinz Hohensinn, did so only because he had no pension to lose. Even so, he had been pressured not to talk by ex-colleagues.
When the opportunity arose to speak to the sole surviving terrorist Battsek and Macdonald were sceptical. It was to be beginning of a meandering six month process which saw producer and director hiring wigs and moustaches to ship out to Africa for a former terrorist to disguise himself with. After countless arranged, rearranged and aborted interview dates, they filmed an interview with Jamal Al Gashey, a man who many had claimed did not exist. In the end there were only a few minor players, such as the marksmen and helicopter pilots who were not to be persuaded.
Macdonald and Battsek both wanted to try to ensure that the interview sections of the film had a STYLE that removed the film from standard talking head' STYLE documentaries. To this end they asked Alwin Kuchler (Ratcatcher) if he would be the cinematographer for the film. "Alwin's photography is really striking and seems to have a STYLE of its own, and this is very much what I wanted for the film," says Macdonald.
The archive search got off to a great start as Cohn was able to put the production in touch with the company that owned all the original 35mm footage shot by 8 world renowned film directors for the official 1972 film of the Olympics. The Amateur Athletic Federation in Los Angeles were happy to cooperate and Macdonald had visited Los Angeles for the arduous process of sifting through hundreds of cans of original rushes that had not been opened for 28 years. Archives from all over the world had sent material, much of it on different formats and of pretty poor quality, yet the production team were determined to look through it all. For Justine Wright (Editor) the opportunity of editing the film came totally out of the blue. Justine had been editing commercials and shortform documentaries for some time and she jumped at the chance to work on a feature length film. "Like so many people, I knew nothing about the event itself. I was intrigued by the contrast of sports and tragedy and also the vision that Kevin had of how he wanted the end product to look."
Battsek, Macdonald and Cohn knew that a soundtrack featuring music of the time would add an extra dimension to the film, despite the fact that music of that era is extremely hard to come by, unless the production has significant amounts of finance. With music supervisor Liz Gallacher on board, the team set about trying to clear Macdonald's difficult first choice music for the film, including Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song'. "When Liz first heard that we wanted the track, she said in no uncertain terms that we were wasting our time," Battsek remembers, "but I just wouldn't give up." With the help of various people, not least the band's lawyer Robert Rosenberg, the track was cleared. It was the first time that they had cleared a song for a movie apart from their own concert film The Song Remains the Same.