Sunday, September 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Other Dream Team

Rating: Unrated

Length: 89 minutes

Release date: Sept. 28, 2012

Directed by: Marius A. Markevičius

Genre: Documentary

"The Other Dream Team" documentary focuses on the significance of the Lithuanian basketball community to that country when it was going through turbulent times. After the collapse of communism, Lithuania was faced with serious socio-economic problems. Lithuania's basketball team debut in the 1992 Olympics proved to be a unifying and comforting factor that helped to hold the country together and boosted national morale and pride.

The movie begins at the 1988 Olympics, when the USSR triumphed over the United States to win the coveted gold medal in basketball. The USSR team was successful mainly because of its inclusion of four Lithuanian basketball players. These four talented players were Arvydas Sabonis, Rimas Kurtinaitis, ŠarÅ«nas Marčiulionis, and Valdemaras Chomičius. This was the first time the four basketball stars were playing at an international level, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Still, they wanted to play and win for their own country and not for the USSR.

The four players joined the struggle for their country's independence, while at the same time endeavoring to be legitimate basketball players. Their life under communist rule was not easy, and although permitted to travel, they had to contend with doing so under the KGB's supervision. The players began trading, buying products in foreign countries and selling them at home for modest profits. This was the only way they could support their families during these hard times.

Sabonis, a talented center forward, was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers. His excitement was short-lived; he was soon notified by the USSR authorities that he was not allowed to sign the contract or to leave his country. The struggle was long and difficult but the Lithuanians did not relent, and in 1992 they were able to send a team to the Olympics in Barcelona. They won many supporters when the public heard about their struggle to play for their own country. One of their greatest fans was the rock band, Grateful Dead, who paid for their trip to Spain and had their artist design the Lithuanians' basketball team logo. The Lithuanian basketball team became a pop symbol for standing up to oppressive regimes. Their determination saw them reach the semi-finals where they played the American Dream Team before facing their longtime foe, USSR, to compete for the bronze medal.

On the surface, it is easy to label "The Other Dream Team" as a historical or sports documentary, but there is more to the movie than that. The resolve and hard work of the Lithuanian basketball players is inspirational. It is a movie about the value of national pride, and what a purposeful group of people can achieve.

The documentary's political undertones are strong, and the team's fight to break away from the yoke of the USSR totalitarian regime is well depicted. Markevičius cleverly interweaves the history of the Lithuanian basketball players and that of the USSR, and he clearly brings to the fore the latter's destruction of Lithuania.

The movie shows that although many people view sports only in the light of fun and games, this is not always the case. It is very common for sport to carry political undertones. Many fans take such pride in their teams that the success or failure of a national team can deflate or raise the hopes and morale of a country. Even so, the case of the Lithuanian basketball team is an extraordinary one.

Many movies have featured sport as their main topic. "Once Brothers," a 2010 project of Markevičius and Michael Tolajian, chronicles the separation of the Yugoslavian national team into Croatian and Serbian units. "Coach Carter" (2005) and "Remember the Titans" (2000) are films based on true events. However, the stranger than fiction fusion of sports, history, and politics depicted in "The Other Dream Team" is unique to this documentary.

The movie brings to the surface the importance of friendship in sports too, as is revealed by the lifelong friendship between Marčiulionis and Sabonis. It is clear that a few people can make a difference, whether in sports or politics, and self-belief is central in making a positive impact. "The Other Dream Team" can be summed up as a documentary on the rebirth of Lithuania through basketball.

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