Saturday, April 21, 2012
Dallas International Film Festival review: The Other Dream Team
The Other Dream Team shows basketball players shooting for freedom.
If you were to read the description for director/co-writer Marius Markevicius' movie The Other Dream Team, you might get the impression that the film’s main focus is basketball, specifically the 1992 Barcelona game in which the Lithuanian team beat the Russian team and received the bronze medal. You would be mistaken. The film is truly about how basketball helped bring international attention to a people who were playing to win freedom and equality from an oppressive regime.
The Other Dream Team had its Dallas premiere Thursday night at the Dallas International Film Festival. The film was followed by a Q&A with Marius Markevicius, co-writer/producer John Weinbach, Dallas Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson, and a player from the 1992 Olympics. Each speaker added a personal anecdote to an already memorable story.
The “Russian” basketball team beat America in the 1998 Olympics for the gold medal. Ironically, most of the players on the team were in fact Lithuanians whose homeland was occupied by Russia (USSR). For the players, this created an intrinsic dilemma – they were Russian heroes who were forced to speak about and portray a lifestyle to the world that did not exist.
The Other Dream Team encompasses a 10-year period and uses first-hand interviews to explain both what life was like in Russia and the price the Lithuanian players faced if they did not follow strict orders. Footage of clips of the revolts that took place in Lithuania are included, and viewers get a compelling presentation and history lesson wrapped in one.
The film follows the journey of the Lithuanian players and their battle for independence. With the assistance of Donnie Nelson, Sarunas Marciulionis was the first Russian athlete to successfully negotiate a deal with the NBA. Nelson stated that before Sarunus, “90% of athletes’ paychecks went back to Russia. Sarunas was a guinea pig for taking on the system.” His risk paid off and paved the way for future athletes.
When Lithuania gained independence from Russia, the team reassembled to compete. The only thing that was holding them back was a lack of funding. Balancing out the heavier footage with the true an endearing journey of how the Lithuanian team made it to the Olympics.
To gain funding, Nelson took the team around the country to find sponsors. An underwriting donor was found from an unlikely source – the Grateful Dead. Tie-dyed shirts were made by the band and sent to members of the team with the colors of the Lithuanian flag – an emblematic T-shirt and recognizable following was born.
The team manages to not only gain publicity and raise awareness of their battle at home, they also advance in the competition, resulting in the ultimate battle at the 1992 Olympic games, Lithuania versus Russia.
It is evident that the Lithuanian players' win represents much more than a game.
Markevicius said that he knew creating the film would be a challenge. He was working with “athletes” not “film stars,” but the players wanted to tell their stories. Viewers were shown how the players wanted to win their independence from an oppressive Soviet regime and basketball provided them one of the only sanctioned forms of rebellion.
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