Saving Munich: Spielberg talks
Exclusive interview: Steven Spielberg talks about 'Munich', politics, and Israel – part 2
Part two of exclusive interview first published by Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth
Did you have any doubts during the making of the film? Were there moments when you said to yourself "I am portraying the terrorists in a controversial manner here", or "this will be too hard for viewers to accept"?
No. I didn't set out to make "Death Wish V', a classic Hollywood movie of good guys and bad guys. In Hollywood, quite often the bad guys are absolutely evil, they have no face, no family, no human characteristics. The good guys are only good, and they have white hats that say they are good.
I didn't want to make such a movie, but rather a realistic movie. Scriptwriter Tony Kushner and I both knew that as soon as one of the planners of Munich opened his mouth, we were going to be attacked for that.
Our intention was not to make a balanced film, in which one side talks and the other has to talk in turn. This is not a balanced movie. But our basic assumption was that every single person is a human being, and why he does what he does should understood.
To understand does not mean to forgive, but you still have to understand. What good does it do to stop thinking?"
As a Jew it is my right to explore everything and ask questions. For 59 years I have been sitting at Seder table, and I remember at least 49 of them.
In each Seder, even the one I will be at in a few months in Arizona, there is debate, there are questions, points and counterpoints – all on the way to the dessert."
Rejecting moral equivalency
To the accusations of moral equivalency between the terrorists and the Israelis, that his bad guys are not bad enough and the good guys not good enough, another charge was added in Israel, perhaps the most serious of them all: historical inaccuracy.
"Spielberg has a lot to learn from the Mossad," former director Shabtai Shavit says grumpily at a screening that got rousing applause.
Naturally, at least to everyone except Israelis who spent those six days fixated, is that Spielberg is trying to tell a story, not write history.
But surprisingly, Spielberg doesn't actually follow this rationale – and exposes himself in the most unexpected way. "I made Munich like I make all my movies – with the best possible research," he claims. "Just like when I was making 'Saving Private Ryan'' I spoke to some people who landed in Omaha beach during the Normandy invasion. I tried to describe everything in the most accurate way possible."
You are obviously aware that George Jonas' book 'Vengeance', is not considered accurate in Israel.
"I appreciate that. But the Israeli establishment and the Mossad have never discredited Jonas' book. Good people like the head of Mossad in those days, Zvi Zamir, criticized the book, but the Mossad never claimed officially that what is written in it is false. We have no documentation of who really did what."
But why didn't you speak with Mossad officials that were involved with the operation, like Zamir and Mike Harari, who headed the operation.
"My researchers approached many people. They wouldn't agree to talk."
In interviews you spoke about meetings with the real "Avner". What can you say about this?
"I cannot say who he is or speak of my meetings with him, but he is the man George Jonas relied on in his book. I promised him I would not disclose his identity and not discuss our meetings. I wouldn't have done the movie without talking to him first."
There is a scene in which Avner exits the airport and is met by two uniformed men in a military jeep, and they identify themselves as Shin Bet operatives. Every Israeli will tell you that Shin Bet personnel do not wear uniforms and do not drive around in a jeep.
"Every movie that I have made, fantasy or history, is thoroughly researched. If I was wrong, I would be happy to know in what way. After 'Saving Private Ryan' came out, there were people who told me the company commander would never have had the two identifying white stripes located on the front end of his helmet, because that would have made him an easy target for German snipers. I said I made a mistake. I would be happy to learn what mistakes were made in Munich."
In an interview with Roger Ebert you said that your movies were meant to give 'the most amount of pleasure and the least amount of homework'. Maybe this is not enough for you right now?
I didn't make Munich to make anybody happy. As I get older I'm very aware of all the moments in history and contributions of individuals that brought all of us to where we are today. This makes me become more interested in stories that originate from real headlines.
I haven't given up making entertaining films, but over the last decade I have been making some films that express the respect I have for history.
I am about to make "Indiana Jones 4", which is, as far as I am concerned, the sweet dessert I give those who had to chow down on the bitter herbs that I've used in Munich."
A lot has been said about the great secrecy of Munich, that actors didn't know much about the film, except their own role. Why is it all so secret?
"There was no more or less secrecy around this project than 'War of the Worlds', for example. The secrecy is not there to create drama, but to prevent prejudice. The only thing I did differently in Munich was that I did not give any interviews during filming and production.
I did that so journalists and critics would watch the movie without any preconceived notions. The problem is that whatever I say about my reasons for making the movie turns into the only thing they print in the newspaper. That prevents audiences from forming their own views. I wanted the movie to speak for itself."
Friend of Israel
Spielberg, as mentioned, is great supporter of Israel.
"I have visited Israel several times. The last time was 11 years ago. I think that it has undergone a great change for the better. We made the film when the disengagement plan was implemented, and it seemed like a tremendous forward motion that made me feel that Israel was moving to a negotiated peace and a two-nation state solution.
The most heroic thing that happened in 2005 was the establishment of the Kadima party by Ariel Sharon, because peace can only come from the political center, while war always comes from the extremes. Obviously, since ill fate befell Sharon, Hamas rose to power, and now it is hard to tell what will happen."
The debates over the movie in Israel touched upon the question of targeted killings. What do you think about this issue?
Targeted killings that are crosschecked on a case by case basis are the only avenue of recourse. This sentence alone will cause some of my pacifist friends to attack me. When you do not act while you are under the threat of terrorism, it weakens you and might be disastrous.
But whenever you confront violence with counter-violence, there are certain unintended consequences. Sometimes a greater evil replaces the known evil. Sometimes the person you kill is replaced by someone much worse.
I am not claiming that Israel or the United States should stop using this weapon, but when you use violence, everything must be considered on its own merit, case by case, and there should always be verification if there is someone to talk to.
There is nothing to talk about with Hamas or Al-Queda, and I understand that well. But I am hoping for the day dialogue becomes louder than weapons."
Close to 30 Israeli actors play in the film. Were you impressed by any of them?
"It was wonderful to work with Ayelet Zorer, who plays Dafna, Avner's wife. She is a remarkable woman that brings a civilian perspective to the movie.
Gila Almagor is also amazing. I would like to bring her to the States to work here, once I find the right role for her. Israelis should do what the Australians did: come to Hollywood, make movies, be successful and then return to Israel and be successful there."