It has been said that the media is the oxygen that fuels the flame of terrorism. Susan Moeller quotes Walter Laquer ‘s Terrorism, stating “it is not the magnitude of the terrorist operation that counts, but the publicity.”(Moeller 19) Further citation of this phenomenon is Brian Michael Jenkins’ words “Terrorism is theater,” indicating the need for an audience. However, it is not only media that provides this publicity or demonstrates this audience dependency; dramatizations of such events through the cinematic medium are also characterized by the same copious amounts of publicity and audience.

For certain age groups in particular, this medium reaches further and deeper than news reporting. However, due to the increased poetic license taken by producers compared to reporters, films may more effectively evoke fear in the audience’s concerning these gruesome events with potential inaccuracies. Demonstrating this, Paul Greengrass’ “Bloody Sunday” and Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” depict examples of terrorism through a medium that uses effective production techniques and some inaccuracies to effect a heightened sensitivity to the respective event.

For example, Greengrass uses the mockumentary approach to his depiction of the 30th of January 1972. In particular, Greengrass attempts to create a feeling of verisimilitude through certain techniques. One such example is the omission of a dramatic soundtrack—instead the marchers sing “We Shall Overcome” A Capella. In addition, using short choppy scenes, fading to black as scene changes and filming with video cameras in hand create the image of a documentary account of Bloody Sunday made at the time. However, this is certainly not the case as this movie was filmed in 2002. Also, there are several conflicting accounts to Greengrass’ portrayal.

Though “Bloody Sunday” depicts Gerry Donaghy as innocent of the allegations of him being a member of the IRA equipped with two nail bombs, both the initial inquiry and the more recent inquiry cast a different light on Donaghy’s involvement. The Guardian‘s Henry McDonald reports that the IRA “officially claimed a victim as one of its fallen volunteers”2, the victim being Donaghy, and notes that a “four-paragraph salute to Donaghy reveals that he attended IRA training camps.”2 Corroborating this report, relays Paddy Ward’s claim to have given “two nail bombs to 17-year-old Gerard Donaghy several hours before he was shot dead.”3 Though less concrete evidence against Greengrass’ film, it is interesting to note that though this struggle stems from religious differences in Northern Ireland, there is strikingly little mention of this at all beyond mere mentions of the affiliations. Instead, “Bloody Sunday” appears much more as an ongoing struggle between the unruly youth and the militant British forces. While the initial inquiry has fallen under enough skepticism that a new inquiry, the Saville Inquiry, has begun, these recent reports indicate that Greengrass’ portrayal, though very convincing through the aforementioned techniques, might be inaccurate in at least this subject of Donaghy’s involvement.

In contrast to this, Spielberg’s “Munich” seems to avoid the techniques used by Greengrass; the film does not try to hide that it is a dramatization at all. For example, the Spielberg crafts scenes in which characters are unaware of the camera unlike in “Bloody Sunday”; in the mockumentary format, the audience would certainly not see such a controversial scene such as the prime minister giving the clandestine commission to Avner and still believe the film is a documentary. Additionally, Spielberg adds dramatizations such as Avner’s haunting flashbacks to the murder of the Israeli athletes, which he could not have actually seen. Certainly Spielberg does not aim to convince the audience that this is a documentary at all. Instead, Spielberg creates a cinematic depiction in which he takes some artistic liberties with primarily factual storyline.

Spielberg takes some artistic liberties in crafting a story around the Munich Olympic Massacre. For example, reveals an inaccuracy concerning one of the Israeli atheletes: “Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano is portrayed as a fit man who attempts a rescue, which eventually results in his death. At the time of the kidnapping, Romano was injured, and walking with crutches.”5 This, however is quite an insignificant factual inaccuracy. In fact, Spielberg’s account is supported by’s citation of Simon Reeve’s quotation of General Aharan Yariv, the general overseer of the operation to exact justice on those who planned the Munich Massacre: “We had no choice. We had to make them stop, and there was no other way… we are not very proud about it. But it was a question of sheer necessity. We went back to the old biblical rule of an eye for an eye… I approach these problems not from a moral point of view, but, hard as it may sound, from a cost-benefit point of view. If I’m very hard-headed, I can say, what is the political benefit in killing this person? Will it bring us nearer to peace? Will it bring us nearer to an understanding with the Palestinians or not? In most cases I don’t think it will. But in the case of Black September we had no other choice and it worked. Is it morally acceptable? One can debate that question. Is it politically vital? It was”.6 Further supporting the accuracy of “Munich” is Alexander B. Calahan’s thesis, in which he describes the primary objective of Committee-X, which Israeli Premier Golda Meir led, for Mossad “was to kill the BSO members and create terror within the terrorists’ organizations”.((7) chapter 3)

However, despite the historical accuracy of these events, some are still not moved by such theatrical depictions of this national tragedy of Israel or by the triumph, however minor, Mossad had over Black September. Ilias Kiritsis notes that the whole world are not sympathetic with the Israeli cause; in fact, Ilias reveals that “there’s huge sympathy for Palestinians” and further that “people here [in Greece] see Israel-Britain-America as the axis of evil, America being led by a Jewish lobby.” Ilias clarifies that in his opinion, “they’re not racist by any means” but also declares “I don’t think anti-Semitism ever left the table. Ilias regards these as “childish notions” and “conspiracies” but this drastically different sentiment makes it clear that these one-sided depictions of the event, while moving for would-be supporters, have little effect on those with a negative predisposition toward the portrayed victims.

Spielberg’s “Munich” and Greengrass’ “Bloody Sunday” provide good contrasting examples of a particularly persuasive medium—film. These artists craft a meticulous work of art and in doing so, effect a polarization among the viewers. In America, the audience in both cases would have the tendency to feel sympathy toward the Irish and Israeli plights, whereas in Greece, the IRA and Mossad’s questionable activity are viewed as nothing more sacred than the terrorists responsible for September 11th. Thus, this medium provides an outlet by which those who might not otherwise hear of the IRA or the Mossad to learn some details of these groups. However, due to the production techniques used, certain inaccuracies go unnoticed by a large portion of the audience and have the potential to perpetuate strong emotions for perhaps unjust reasons. This may not be so extreme in this case but it is certainly clear that artistic liberties can be taken and this certainly begs the question: Can the artistic liberties be taken too far? In some cases, film certainly provides the oxygen of publicity and instill perhaps a greater magnitude of fear than would a newspaper article. For this reason directors should consider the effects of these artistic liberties and audiences must remain ever vigilant in ascertaining truth from fiction or else ignorance coupled with publicity will provide the perpetual oxygen to fuel the fire of terrorism.


(1) Moeller, Susan D. Packaging Terrorism. Wiley-Blackwell 2009.

(2) Mcdonald, Henry. “Bloody Sunday victim did volunteer for us, says IRA”. The Guardian. May 19 2002.
(3) “Witness claims campaign to discredit him”. October 20 2003. him-118146.html.

(4) Greengrass, Paul. Bloody Sunday. Bórd Scannán na hÉireann. January 25 2002.
(5) “Munich (2005) – Goofs”. Accessed March 7, 2010.
(6) “Reference for Munich massacre”. Accessed March 7, 2010.
Cites: Reeve, Simon. “One Day In September”. Faber & Faber. 2000.