An instance of art imitating life turned into life imitating art for the 7 Days In Entebbe filmmakers. They were recreating the famous 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv at the Malta airport when filming was interrupted by a real-life skyjacking.
“We’ve had five hijackings land here,” Lija mayor Magda Magri Naudi told BBC World TV, “and ironically today they were actually filming Entebbe on the airport grounds and that had to be stopped.”
The real hijackers, armed with replica hand grenades and pistols, called themselves “pro-Gaddafi” and demanded asylum in Malta, before being subdued. All 118 hostages were released as the culprits were taken into custody.
That situation was wrapped up peacefully in hours but, as the title 7 Days In Entebbe suggests, the 1976 terror attack didn’t resolve itself so easily.
On July 27, 1976, an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. On the ground the Jewish passengers were singled out and held hostage. The hijackers, two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two Germans affiliated with the left-wing extremist group Revolutionary Cells, demanded a ransom of $5 million and the release of prisoners from Israeli jails. If their conditions weren’t met by the deadline of Sunday, July 5 the terrorists would start executing hostages one by one. In response the Israeli government ordered a daring counter-terrorist hostage rescue operation.
The film 7 Days In Entebbe stars an international cast, including Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike as the German reactionaries, and, according to The Wrap’s Ben Croll, is “a somewhat dispassionate view on the whole affair as a geopolitical event that encompassed a number of overlapping parties.”
In other words, the movie values political speechifying over action sequences.
Speaking at a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival director José Padilha talked about his take on the narrative. “This story started with (producers) Ron Halpern and Tim Bevan and I think it was a great idea because they thought there was a narrative in this story that was missing. Most of the other movies are told from a military perspective and they show you a history of heroism, a gigantic military feat and they ignored the interaction between the hijackers and hostages and also the political aspects in Israel.”
Over the years the story has been told from many different angles. There is Operation Thunderbolt, which fictionalized the raid in a 1988 arcade game, and a 2009 play called To Pay the Price based in part on the letters of Israeli hero Yonatan Netanyahu.
On screen the story has been told in Operation Thunderbolt: Entebbe, a documentary featuring interviews with the former hostages and Capt. Michel Bacos, the pilot who refused to abandon his passengers, and the 1976 television film Victory at Entebbe, starring Anthony Hopkins and Elizabeth Taylor, which went to air just five months after the original incident.
The most authentic adaptation must be Operation Thunderbolt, known in Israel as Mivtsa Yonatan. Produced with the co-operation of the Israeli Air Force and government, the Oscar-nominated film is the most accurate in terms of uniforms, weapons, aircraft and vehicles. It is so realistic that several documentaries have used the film’s footage to dramatize the hijacking.