Steven Spielberg’s film about Israel’s revenge for the killing of its athletes by Palestinian guerrillas at the 1972 Munich Olympics opens in three weeks, but the Oscar-winning director has made surprisingly little effort to publicize it.
Leaders of Jewish and Muslim groups as well as diplomats and foreign policy experts will preview “Munich” before its U.S. release on Dec. 23, but Spielberg has shied away from the media hype and costly promotional campaigns that typically precede a big-studio movie.
The low profile is even more unusual given that “Munich” has appeared, sight unseen, on almost every pundit’s list of films expected to clinch an Oscar nomination for best picture.
Spielberg’s associates say the director, recognizing the potential of his film to stir fierce debate, insists on letting the work speak for itself.
It is arguably the most politically charged movie of a career that has not shied from confronting difficult issues, among them the Holocaust in “Schindler’s List,” for which Spielberg won an Academy Award.
“He didn’t want to talk to anybody until people had a chance to see the film,” spokesman Marvin Levy said. “He said, ‘Let me make the movie, and then we’ll show the movie, and everyone can make up their own minds”.
Another associate close to the production added: “We know there’s going to be controversy. We just want to make sure it’s informed.”
Modern messageUntil this week, the only people who had seen the film were Spielberg, producing partner Kathleen Kennedy and the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner, who co-wrote the screenplay, Levy said.
Conceived as a thriller, the film recounts the story of Israeli agents assigned to hunt down and assassinate the Palestinians suspected of planning the assault on Israeli athletes at the Summer Games in Munich in 1972. Eleven members of Israel’s Olympic team perished in the raid.
Filmed in Paris, Budapest and Malta, “Munich” stars Eric Bana as the commander of the assassination squad from the Mossad spy service. The cast also includes Australian Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush and Daniel Craig, the Briton who will be the next James Bond.
Spielberg has hinted that his portrayal of Israel’s revenge tactics would not be entirely flattering and would raise questions about the U.S. “war on terrorism” since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America.
“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 stand-off we find ourselves in today,” Spielberg said in a statement issued in July as he was starting production.
Israel has never formally acknowledged responsibility for the series of shootings, explosive booby-traps and cross-border commando raids that killed 10 Palestinians linked to Black September, the group behind the Munich slayings.
The reprisal campaign included the 1973 killing in Norway of a Moroccan waiter mistaken for Black September’s leader. Six members of the Israeli hit team were prosecuted for murder, and Israel eventually paid compensation to the victim’s family.
Sources at issueSpielberg’s film is based in part on the 1984 book “Vengeance,” an account drawn from the purported confessions of a former Mossad assassin.
Mossad veterans and Palestinian Munich mastermind Mohammad Daoud are among those who have questioned the basis for Spielberg’s portrayal and grumbled they were not consulted.
Levy said “Munich” drew on numerous sources and that the producers had a contractual obligation to cite “Vengeance” in the film’s credits as the basis for the movie.
Advisors on the film included former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and former White House press secretary Mike McCurry, who both worked for President Clinton.
Elan Steinberg, executive director emeritus of the World Jewish Congress, says he does not think Spielberg will encounter any difficulty for the film from Jewish leaders.
“Many doubted that the maker of action films and movies about aliens from other planets could make a moving film about the Holocaust in ‘Schindler’s List.’ They were wrong and will be proved wrong again,” Steinberg said.