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At the Movies: 'One Day In September'

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The murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian gunmen at the Munich Olympic Games 28 years ago is hauntingly documented in ``One Day In September.''

In many ways, the events of Sept. 5, 1972, marked the birth of a decade of terrorism that drew the world's attention to the long-ignored plight of the Palestinians and ultimately legitimized their longing for a homeland.

Watching this riveting human drama that captivated and stunned viewers around the world, it's hard to believe that, despite continual violence and setbacks, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization mutually recognize one another and have signed several peace accords since 1993 that offer Palestinians limited self-rule and open the door to an eventual state.

In 1972, the face of the Palestinians was that of masked men armed with machine guns on a whitewashed balcony of a room at the Olympic village.

``One Day In September,'' which won the 1999 Academy Award for best documentary, has already aired on HBO. But the stunning story _ a botched raid, a nighttime helicopter flight with bound hostages, a planned getaway from a nearby airport that turns into an explosive battle scene _ is gripping on the big screen.

The story also focuses equally on the inept German rescue efforts. In one of the most shocking twists, a German government spokesman goes on ABC and tells the world the hostages are safe and free.

The mix of grainy, aged, archival footage, sometimes in black-and-white, serves to underscore the helplessness of Israeli wrestlers and weightlifters who spent the last 21 hours of their lives waiting to die just six miles from the site of an old Nazi concentration camp.

Director Kevin Macdonald uses the raw, powerful voices of surviving athletes, German officials and, most notably, of one of the Palestinian gunmen to guide us through the endless horrors of a day so rife with symbolism to be almost unfathomable.

The Israelis were already a story at the 1972 Olympics before the Games had even started. Returning to German soil three decades after the Holocaust was hardly insignificant for the athletes from a young, struggling nation built by the survivors of Adolf Hitler's Nazi machine.

More than one of the competitors had lost family in the war.

Germany's efforts to showcase a new, tolerant nation at the Games, and the nation's determination to let nothing spoil that may have ultimately aided the terrorists and cost the lives of the athletes.

Macdonald, with narration by Michael Douglas, does a tremendous job of laying out just how disastrous and misplaced the thinking of German officials was at the time.

Untrained, inexperienced police were up against an unknown number of gunmen with a plan and demands _ the immediate release of more than 200 Palestinians, most jailed in Israel, in exchange for the hostages.

The chief Palestinian negotiator named Issa vowed to shoot one Israeli every hour that the demands were not met.

Nearly 30 years afterward, Macdonald manages to capture the tension of the moment as deadlines pass in front of the world and the fate of the Israelis inside the village remains unknown.

``One Day in September,'' released by Sony Pictures Classsics, runs 92 minutes and is rated R for violence.


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