My Olympic Summer
Walter Reade Theater – New York, NY
March 30, 2008
Daniel Robin’s My Olympic Summer, winner of the Short Filmmaking Award at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, played last Sunday at the Walter Reade Theater during New Directors/New Films, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. My Olympic Summer preceded the feature film Jellyfish. Below is my review of My Olympic Summer along with some notes I took during the audience Q&A. I also had the chance to correspond with Daniel for further insights on his film a few days later for a One-on-One Q&A, which you will find directly beneath that.
Film Review & Audience Q&A Notes:
My Olympic Summer is a fictional re-telling of the events of the 1972 Munich Olympics where Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists, told through home movies of Daniel’s mother and father who seemingly go through a rocky relationship, to which Daniel parallels with his own divorce. These are real home movies, however the events are manipulated into what I feel to be an artitistic and compelling story. If this were completely fiction, it would still have an impact, but the fact that Daniel creatively took movies and elements from his real life and turned into in a fictional account of a historical event, doesn’t make it any more or less artistic. Filmmakers have been fictionalizing historical events since the beginning of filmmaking, so why not mix two genres together to create a new artistic expression? Unfortunately, some audience members reacted negatively. The Film Society’s Joanna Ney opened the Q&A by asking Daniel to elaborate on his quote that photos conceal a certain mark of living. Daniel responded that most of the film is fiction and on one level, the film works on how we read images. Several audience members said they were offended that they didn’t know in advance that this was not all a true story and that they felt it was making light of an historical tragedy. Daniel said he wasn’t trying to dupe anyone and the most important thing is how you view the film emotionally. Another audience member asked him where he came up with the idea for his film. He said he was really interested in crossing narrative filmmaking over into documentary with an historical backdrop.
One-on-One Q&A with Daniel Robin:
TFPN: How do you feel the screening and Q&A at ND/NF went? What inspired you to make My Olympic Summer?
Daniel: When the audience member asked where I came up with the idea for the film I answered that the idea came from me wanting to find the best way to (cinematically) talk about my own, somewhat mundane, experiences going through a failed marriage, and still engage the audience. I feel for this particular film, combining narrative and documentary forms was the more interesting path to follow to get at the heart of the emotions I wanted to talk about.
TFPN: What has been the reaction from audiences at festivals where the film previously screened?
Daniel: In Amsterdam at IDFA, many audience members were outspokenly upset, saying they felt betrayed. However, their frustration came from the emotional attachment they had developed from the film rather then being upset about me re-orchestrating historical events. The funny thing was that with each of the five screenings at IDFA, other audience members would get up from their seats and tell those who were upset that it didn’t matter if it’s real or not, but that it’s how you feel emotionally. And I couldn’t agree more. My barometer for the success of my film, or for that matter any film I watch, is what I am left with emotionally, that’s the truth of the film. So when I’m not present at screenings, which is a whole lot because the film is playing at many festivals, I’m not concerned whether or not the audience knows of my formal manipulations. And when I am present, and able to have a Q&A, which certain festivals won’t even allow, then it’s a bonus to be able to provoke discussions about how we read the surface of images and text in a film. What are our expectations of a documentary?