Sunday, November 20, 2016

ON THE MAP: Dani Menkin's ode to world basketball and the surprising '77 Israeli team

I suspect you will have to be neither a huge basketball fan nor a staunch lover of Israel to still be amazed and moved by the new documentary, ON THE MAP. As written and directed by Dani Menkin (who gave us the wonderful Dolphin Boy, as well as the more recent and not-so-hot narrative film, Is That You?), this sprightly, enthusiastic movie introduces us to a certain Maccabi team from Tel Aviv that made sports and Israeli history back in 1977 by putting Israel, as its captain tell us, "On the map--not just in sports but in everything!"

Mr. Menkin, shown at right, is clearly besotted with love for this team, and he manages to share that with his audience in a way that is exciting, refreshing, and even sometimes heart-stopping. It helps, of course, that the story here is top-of-the-line: a come-from-behind, success-despite-all-odds tale of hard work plus talent that pays off bigtime. And Menkin tells it supremely well, using a smart combination of history, culture, some first-class interviews, and archival footage of the players and their games that brings all this to fine, immediate life.

We see the players then (above) and now (below), and we hear from most of them, too. One of them, Jim Boatwright, is now dead, but his ex-wife makes a fine substitute -- funny, appealing and moving, as she tells us of those days and times and what it all meant to her husband.

The captain of the team -- its star player and the man who most helped bring these players all together -- was Tal Brody (below), whom we see in action on and off the court. We also hear from Brody's friend and co-player (some decades back), Bill Walton, who clearly is still moved and amazed by what these Maccabis did. Hearing Walton talk about all this is one of the documentary's highlights.

We learn how history -- from the creation of Israel to its various wars to the 1972 Munich Olympics -- played into the importance of what happened in 1977. We also meet the one black player on the team, Aulcie Perry (below, center), and learn how a plate full of cakes determined his fate with the team, and how and why he later converted to Judaism.

We're there as Moshe Dayan (above, right) congratulates the team, as well as when Prime Minister Rabin resigns from office on the very day of one of the team's most important games. The anecdotes here are well-chosen, pointed and entertaining -- adding up to a first-class documentary that will have you on the edge of your seat, cheering, holding your breath, and finally maybe shedding a tear or two.

From Hey Jude Productions and running just 85 minutes, On The Map opens in Los Angeles this coming Friday, November 25, at Laemmle's Royal and in New York City on December 9 at the Cinema Village. Click here, then click on SCREENINGS, to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters. There will be personal appearances in Los Angeles and perhaps elsewhere, too. Check the theaters' listings for dates and times.

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