Appetite for Reality

By John Battsek

one-day-in-september-kevin-macdonald.jpgOne Day in September, 1999

The feature documentary One Day in September, directed by Kevin Macdonald, won an Academy Award in 2000. It tells the story of the 1972, Munich Olympic games when 11 members of the Israeli team were taken hostage by the Palestinian Black September Group. The film’s producer, John Battsek, comments on his strategy for making the film.

John Battsek: I always hoped that the film would have a theatrical life. It was very much our intention therefore to make the film in as cinematic a way as possible. Sound design, editing, music, cinematography, the all round scope was that of a piece of cinema. Also we told the story as it happened which, as it turned out, added a significant element of drama to the film which increased its ability to engage a cinema audience. Once the film was finished I screened it to a full house of industry types in the hope that they would like it, thus it would get good word of mouth and I would then use the word of mouth to lure in a distributor. As it happened the film went down fantastically at that first screening and I had agents and other industry people in tears who subsequently rang distributors and told then they had to see the film. I then set up a distributors’ screening and some follow-ups and within a fairly short period of time I had a couple of offers.

one-day-in-september-kevin-macdonald-2.jpgOne Day in September, 1999 

Vertigo: Did the film’s success at the box office surprise you?

JB: In pure box office terms it was not a success. I think it grossed £150,000. That may put it about sixth or seventh in terms of the biggest grossing docs, but to be honest I am disappointed that it did not do significantly better. The audience, such that it was, was drawn by great reviews, tons of publicity and an Oscar!

In real box office terms I don’t think there is a significant audience for ‘real life’ documentaries. People would have to develop a huge appetite for the truth and for reality, as opposed to fantasy and escape which is predominantly why they go to the cinema.

John Battsek has worked in the film business since 1984. He joined Passion Pictures in 1997 as Head of Features and Documentary.