Tuesday, January 15, 2013

DVD Review: THE OTHER DREAM TEAM

Releasing today on DVD:

THE OTHER DREAM TEAM
(Dir. Marius A. Markevičius, 2012) *

In Marius A. Markevičius’ debut documentary, THE OTHER DREAM TEAM, mostly set during the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall leading up to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, the Baltic state of Lithuania breaks free from Soviet rule with the help of basketball and the Grateful Dead. 

You read that right - following several decades of devastating oppression in which Lithuanian athletes were forced to compete for the USSR, the countries’ top basketball players were able to compete under their own flag in the ‘92 summer games, aided by some financial assistance from that aforementioned famous psychedelic San Francisco band.


As the film’s title suggests, the Lithuanian basketball team was the underdog antithesis of the all star 1992 American Olympic team that included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Magic Johnson. The Lithuanians didn’t win against the Americans, but they did defeat the Russian Unified team for the Bronze Medal.

Valdas Adankus, President of Lithuania from ’98-’09 puts it like this: “This was not only a pride, it was an open war. We are not going to accept, no way, no time, ever, the occupation of Lithuania. We are fighting the enemy, not in the field with bombs, machine guns, or planes, but fighting them on a basketball court.”

Through vivid testimony (most subtitled) from star Lithuanian players Valdemaras Chomičius, Arvydas Sabonis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis and Rimas Kurtinaitis, alongside sports commentators such as Jim Lampley, David Remnick Chris Mullin, and Bill Walton, we learn how the stage was set for the team and the, now independent, countries’ victory.

The story of recent NBA draftee Jonas Valanciunas, who was born in ’92, is interwoven through the film, to show us how far they’ve come from the days where Lithuanian players could only travel to the U.S. with KGB escort, and players would fear that they if they accepted a draft from an American team, they would be put away into a Soviet prison camp, something the extremely talented player Sabonis worried about in ’86 when selected by the Portland Trail Blazers.

In 1991, haven finally been granted freedom from Communism after nearly half a century, Lithuania is bankrupt, unable to afford to send their beloved basketball team to the Olympics.

That’s where the Grateful Dead comes in. Members of the longtime hippy rock band (Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and Phil Lesh), who were all big basketball fans, read an article about the Lithuanians’ plight written by San Francisco Chronicle beat writer George Shirk, and decided to kick in funding, through their charitable non-profit organization, the Rex Foundation, and provided the team with a supply of tie-dye uniforms with their distinctive skeleton logo.

You don’t have to be a basketball fan or a Deadhead to appreciate seeing the Lithuanian team walking out onto the court at Barcelona ’92 dressed in tie-dye t-shirts and shorts, some with dreads, to pay tribute to the band that helped get them there. They became known as “Team Tie-Dye,” and the slogan “Better Dead Than Red,” accompanied them everywhere.

Drummer Mickey Hart, the only member of the Dead interviewed for the documentary, notes “They could’ve been laughed at, you know, if they weren’t as good as they were, they would’ve looked like fools wearing tie-dye, but we had a championship gold team flying their colors.”

Despite some unnecessary pop culture cutaways in the buildup to make its Cold War case, writer/director Markevičius’ first feature-length film briskly assembles an extensive blend of arresting anecdotes, archival footage, and photos, sprinkled with new location shots of Kaunas, Lithuania to entertainingly tell its uplifting story.

Special Features: Commentary by filmmaker Marius Markevicius and producer/co-writer Jon Weinbach, and a featurette of a Q&A with Markevicius and Weinbach.

* This review originally appeared in the Nov. 9th, 2012 edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.

More later...

1 comment:

Evah said...

I really like your blog and the choice of films. I haven't seen many of them and now I certainly will.
I also write a blog on movies and I am new at it. This is my blog: http://filmolit.blogspot.com/
I hope you'll check it out. Thanks