Just after finishing his new movie about the aftermath of the massacre at the Munich Olympics, Steven Spielberg talked with TIME movie critic Richard Schickel, who collaborated with him on the TV documentary Shooting War, about his reasons for taking on Munich, his anger at the International Olympic Committee and his modest plan for improving Arab-Israeli relations.
TIME: WOULD IT BE FAIR TO SAY THAT THIS MOVIE IS, IN THE END, ABOUT THE HUMAN COST OF A QUAGMIRE? Yes. And also for me this movie is a prayer for peace. I always kept thinking about that as I was making it. Somewhere inside all this intransigence there has to be a prayer for peace. Because the biggest enemy is not the Palestinians or the Israelis. The biggest enemy in the region is intransigence. Do you know Amos Oz's books? There's a wonderful quote we found, that sort of makes sense to me: "In the lives of individuals, and of peoples, too, the worst conflicts are often those that break out between those who are persecuted." They see in each other's faces a reflection of some larger oppressor. That may well be the case with the 100-year conflict between Arabs and Jews.
DO YOU THINK THIS FILM WILL DO ANY GOOD? I've never, ever made a movie where I said I'm making this picture because the message can do some good for the world--even when I made Schindler's List. I was terrified that it was going to do the opposite of good. I thought perhaps it might bring shame to the memory of those who didn't survive the Holocaust--and even worse to those who did. I made the picture out of just pure wanting to get that story told. I thought it was important that at least my kids someday could see what happened, just to hear that story being told. I feel the same way about Munich. I don't think any movie or any book or any work of art can solve the stalemate in the Middle East today.
BUT IT'S CERTAINLY WORTH A TRY. Everything's worth a try. I didn't make this movie to make money, and I don't know if I've made a commercial movie at all. But I certainly feel that if filmmakers have the courage to talk about these issues--whether they're fictional representations of real events or are pure fiction or pure documentaries--as long as we're willing to talk about the real tough, hard subjects unsparingly, I think it's a good thing to get out in the ether. It's not a bad thing. And there's a project I'm initiating next February that I think might also do some good.
WHAT'S THAT? What I'm doing is buying 250 video cameras and players and dividing them up, giving 125 of them to Palestinian children, 125 to Israeli kids, so they can make movies about their own lives--not dramas, just little documentaries about who they are and what they believe in, who their parents are, where they go to school, what they had to eat, what movies they watch, what CDs they listen to--and then exchange the videos. That's the kind of thing that can be effective, I think, in simply making people understand that there aren't that many differences that divide Israelis from Palestinians--not as human beings, anyway.