Miracle On Hardwood (And Other Cinematic Tales)
It would be, in the words of the Israeli daily Maariv, “the fight between David and Goliath.”
Take your seat.
It’s Thursday, Feb. 17, 1977, the European Basketball Championship.
On one side of the court: CSKA Moscow. The Soviet Union, under the leadership of Leonid Brezhnev, is one of the world’s great powers, home to 290 million men, women and children. Time and again, its CSKA Moscow has refused to compete against the team it is about to play.
On the other side of the court: Maccabi Tel Aviv, comprising Israeli nationals, American Jews and two African Americans. The country has 4 million citizens, virtually all of whom are at home watching the game on Israel’s single TV channel.
Israel is a nation just recovering from the Yom Kippur War, “a country trying to find its identity, a country divided politically,” filmmaker Dani Menkin says. “This team united us.”
On The Map is Menkin’s new documentary about the 1977 European Cup which, to the astonishment of everyone, was won by Maccabi Tel Aviv. The film will be shown 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, for Patron Night at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival and will be followed by a talk-back with Dani Menkin. (Patrons are invited to a private strolling dinner reception at 6:30 p.m.)
“This is such an exciting, feel-good movie,” says Beth Robinson, director of the Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival, which runs May 7-18. “Plus, it’s going to be a great evening with Dani Menkin. Israel, sports, a fascinating discussion. It’s going to be one of the highlights of the film festival.”
Menkin began making On The Map when an Israeli television station asked him to research the championship — a single event that changed the country, he says.
Menkin was the perfect candidate for the project, as both a huge sports fan who — as a child, hoped to become a soccer or basketball player — and an Ophir (Israeli Academy) award-winning filmmaker whose works include 39 Pounds of Love; Dolphin Boy; Je T’aime, I Love You Terminal; and Wisdom of the Pretzel.
Menkin was 7 years old in 1977, and the game is one of his earliest childhood memories.
“Everyone remembers it because everyone watched it,” he says. “It was much more than a sports victory — it was something important in the growth of our nation. It changed everything for us, and not only in basketball.”
Some of the American-born players, including Tal Brody and Aulcie Perry, are interviewed in the film, which also features comments by Natan Sharansky and Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States.
New Jersey native Tal Brody always dreamed of becoming a basketball star (or an FBI agent) and had a chance to play with the NBA before making aliyah in 1970. Brody, who today serves as Goodwill Ambassador of Israel, is the man who proclaimed after the team’s victory: “We are on the map! And we are staying on the map — not only in sports, but in everything.”
African American player Aulcie Perry converted to Judaism and made aliyah. Today a restaurant manager, he sponsors a basketball camp for children in Israel and coaches one of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s youth teams. Perry is the focus of Menkin’s next film.
All the Maccabi Tel Aviv players were optimistic but also realistic. “We hope to lose by not more than 20 points,” the team’s coach said before the game.
And then this combination of “hard workers who were competitive, all very intelligent, a very eclectic group of players with a wonderful coach who knew how to take a team and make it greater than the sum of its parts, with the whole country behind them, with a lot of spirit and a little bit of luck,” actually won.
Though a documentary, On The Map is so exciting that the Los Angeles Times describes it as “fascinating” while the Wall Street Journal labels it a “sports movie at its best.”
Menkin considers himself fortunate that “my work is also my hobby.” His film company, Hey Jude Productions, tells stories about Israel that have nothing to do with politics. (Dolphin Boy is the true account of an Arab boy who refuses to speak following a terrible beating, then receives therapy with dolphins at the Red Sea; 39 Pounds of Love focuses on a man with a rare form of muscular dystrophy that renders him immobile, except for the one finger he uses for work as a 3D animator. In the film, he goes in search of the doctor who thought he wouldn’t survive.)
A fan of Forrest Gump, Menkin also loves reading (mostly books on spiritual topics or about psychology), playing tennis and especially “refreshing my mind with sports and my family.”
FILM FEST SCHEDULE
The JCC’s 19th-annual Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival takes place May 7-18 at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts at the West Bloomfield JCC (unless otherwise noted). For information and to purchase tickets, call (248) 661-1900 or visit jccdet.org/filmfest.
SUNDAY, MAY 7
2 p.m. Fanny’s Journey A 13-year-old girl leads a group of Jewish children through Nazi-controlled France.
5 p.m. Double Feature: Joe’s Violin followed by A Heartbeat Away.
Joe’s Violin A Holocaust survivor and a schoolgirl in the Bronx are united by their love of music and a violin.
A Heartbeat Away An Israeli medical team examines hundreds of children and must determine who to treat and who will be left to die.
8 p.m. Guest speaker Leonard Maltin will discuss Jewish humor in films, followed by The Last Laugh (see “The Great Divide,” page 54).
MONDAY, MAY 8
2 p.m. Natasha The teen son of Russian immigrants becomes involved with his cousin-by-marriage in this coming-of-age story. Strong sexual content.
TUESDAY, MAY 9
2 p.m. Germans and Jews A documentary examining Germany’s surprising popularity with Israelis and developing relations with the Jewish community.
5 p.m. Atlit Three French sisters return to Israel to sell their parents’ home only to discover ghosts and a country in turmoil after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
8 p.m. The Wedding Doll Hagit, a young Israeli woman with special needs, searches for love and independence while her mother deals with her fears that Hagit will be wounded emotionally.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 10
2 p.m. Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt A thought-provoking documentary about the woman who coined the term “The Banality of Evil,” exploring where she lived, worked, loved — and was betrayed.
5 p.m. Our Father A nightclub bouncer with frustrated dreams of becoming a father finds himself entangled in the Israeli underworld.
8 p.m. PATRON NIGHT
On the Map The true story of an underdog Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s victory over the Soviets in the 1977 European Championship.
Followed by a discussion with writer/director Dani Menkin.
A strolling dinner reception with the filmmaker will be held for Film Festival patrons at 6:30.
THURSDAY, MAY 11
2 p.m. Persona Non Grata The extraordinary story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who saved the lives of more than 6,000 Jews in WWII.
5 p.m. Ben-Gurion, Epilogue Never-before-seen footage of the 82-year-old former prime minister, who reflects on the loss of his wife, his health, political legacy and hopes for Middle East peace.
8 p.m. The Last Band in Lebanon Set against the backdrop of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, this offbeat comedy follows three reserve soldiers, all members of a military band, who discover they’ve been left behind enemy lines.
FRIDAY, MAY 12
Noon Moon in the 12th House A story of family, tragedy, secrets and reconciliation focusing on two sisters. Lanny is 21 and cares for her disabled father. Older sister Mira left home long ago and now works at a popular nightclub in Tel Aviv.
2 p.m. Amor After years of wandering, Daniel returns to his childhood home in Israel. He is back to see Lila, the love of his life, who is bedridden, with no hope of recovery. Can he give her the release she cannot achieve alone?
SUNDAY, MAY 14
2 p.m. The Pickle Recipe Joey Miller, desperate for money, tries to steal his grandmother’s famous pickle recipe. This light-hearted comedy takes place in Metro Detroit and includes scenes filmed at Temple Shir Shalom, Clover Hill Park Cemetery, Woodward Avenue and Hygrade Deli. Following the film, writers Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson and director Michael Manasseri will discuss the movie.
8 p.m. The Women’s Balcony A mishap at a Jerusalem synagogue causes a major rift in a devout community in this rousing, comical feminist narrative.
MONDAY, MAY 15
2 p.m. Summer Solstice In wartime Poland, two young men, a German and a Pole who are in love with the same girl, face painful choices and consequences.
5 p.m. Operation Wedding The true story of a group of Jewish dissidents who, in 1970, were arrested only moments before hijacking a Soviet airplane and flying to freedom. Among those arrested: Sylva Zalmanson, who received 10 years in gulag, and Edward Kuznetsov, who received the death sentence.
A talk-back with filmmaker Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov will follow the film.
8 p.m. A Grain of Truth A Polish prosecutor investigates a series of murders, with strange clues invoking the historical blood libel myths, in a small town.
Followed by a talkback with Rabbi Aaron Bergman.
TUESDAY, MAY 16
2 p.m. The Pracht Inn Holocaust survivors at a 1960s Jerusalem hostel battle loneliness and the past while a widower encourages fellow residents to keep alive memories of lost loved ones.
5 p.m. How To Win Enemies A young lawyer brings home a woman he meets at a cafe, only to discover the next morning that his money — and the woman — are gone. He uses skills learned in detective books to solve the mystery in this witty comedy.
Followed by a talkback with Rabbi Arturo Kalfus.
8 p.m. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You A fascinating portrait of the influential writer and TV producer responsible for All in the Family, Maude and The Jeffersons.
8 p.m. at MOCAD SEED: The Untold Story A portrait of passionate seed keepers working to protect this 12,000-year-old food legacy.
Followed by discussion with Rabbi Ariana Silverman and a panel of local experts.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 17
2 p.m. SEED: The Untold Story A portrait of passionate seed keepers working to protect this 12,000-year-old food legacy.
5 p.m. A Quiet Heart A concert pianist escapes the pressures of the music world only to find herself caught in the clash between Jerusalem’s religious conservatives and secular liberals.
8 p.m. Hummus! The Movie Three Israelis — one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim — share a love of this classic Middle Eastern dish. Weaving together their stories, this film shows how food can transcend religious and political divides.
Followed by a discussion with WDET producers Courtney Hurtt and Zak Rosen, and photographer Marvin Shaouni, creators of the exhibit “Framed by WDET: Hummus Heartland,” a collection of stories about Detroit’s Middle Eastern food culture, which will be on exhibit throughout the Film Festival.
THURSDAY, MAY 18
5 p.m. Life, Animated A family discovers they can connect to their autistic son through Disney movies.
8 p.m. Harmonia A contemporary adaptation of the Biblical tale of Abraham and Sarah that tells of two rival prodigies — one Jewish, one Arab — whose lives can ultimately be reconciled only through music. •
Elizabeth Applebaum Special to the Jewish News