Steven Spielberg is "very proud" of two early endorsements for "Munich," his controversial new movie, from the widows of two of the 11 Israeli athletes killed in the 1972 Olympic massacre detailed in the film.
"Munich" neither dishonors their husbands' memories nor tarnishes their country's image, the women said after a screening this week.
"We had heard their reaction soon after the screening and we were obviously very, very gratified," Spielberg's Los Angeles-based spokesman, Marvin Levy, said Thursday. "That would clearly be the most sensitive screening we would have. When they said that any concern they might have had was satisfied, this was enormously gratifying and Steven is very proud of that."
Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yosef Romano and Ankie Spitzer, who was married to the fencing coach Andre Spitzer, are the only Israelis to see the film here before its official release late next month. The movie opened in the U.S. Friday.
"Munich" has already drawn fire from Jews and Israelis concerned that it distorts history and is too sympathetic to the Palestinian terrorists who carried out the massacre _ though many of the critics haven't seen the film, which has been closely guarded.
But Romano and Spitzer gave what amounts to an endorsement.
"We didn't feel it was an affront or a negative thing, or an equation between the terrorists and the people who were trying to eliminate them _ not innocent people, but people who would try to make another Munich," Spitzer said, alluding to Israel's determined pursuit of vengeance.
Romano, who along with Spitzer has dedicated her life to preserving the memory of the slain athletes, downplayed the criticism that the film blurs fact and fiction.
"It is a Hollywood movie," she said. "What is true, what isn't true, I cannot say. I think it doesn't harm Israel."
On Sept. 5, 1972, in a pre-dawn raid on the Olympic village in Munich, members of the Palestinian "Black September" group attacked the Israeli living quarters, killing two and taking nine others hostage.
All the hostages died later amid a botched German rescue attempt at a military airfield outside Munich. The siege and killings shocked the world and ushered in a new era of global terrorism.
In response, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir set up a special unit from Israel's top-secret Mossad agency to hunt down and kill those involved in the attack. The movie focuses on the Munich assault and the Israeli reprisals.
Spielberg's co-producer, Kathleen Kennedy, and the movie's screenwriter, Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") arrived in Israel earlier this month to hold a private screening for the two widows. That was followed by an emotional discussion that lasted several hours, the women said.
"Kathleen Kennedy said to us that Steven Spielberg's worst nightmare would be that after we saw the movie, we would say that our husbands were turning in their graves," recalled Spitzer. "So I said 'well, you can tell Spielberg that he can sleep quietly, because this is absolutely not the case.'"
Her one reservation, though, was a concern that those unfamiliar with the story would not be able to separate fact from fiction. "I know that part of it is based on historical events and part is based on fiction, and I don't think that the regular viewer is going to understand."
But, she added, "We don't have a problem with it; the opposite, we are glad that people are being reminded of what happened in Munich so it will never happen again."
"Munich," co-financed by DreamWorks and Universal, stars Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush and Daniel Craig. It opens in Israel and the rest of the world on Jan. 26.