In the 1970s and 1980s, sports and politics began to mix in unsavory ways, from the horrific massacre of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972 to boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Summer Games. But sports can also lift nations and their place in the world in remarkable ways. Three years before the “Miracle on Ice,” when the U.S. Olympic hockey team won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid, a previously unsuccessful Israeli basketball team was attempting to pull off a miracle of its own at the 1976-77 European Cup Championship. Writer-director Dani Menkin tells the improbable story of Maccabi Tel Aviv in On the Map, an exciting, superbly made documentary about a group of dedicated men whose on-court efforts were about more than going after the cup. “It’s not just basketball,” point guard Bob Griffin explains. Menkin mixes contemporary and archival footage for maximum impact; seeing the surviving members of the team donning their jerseys again and watching themselves in the biggest international game an Israeli team has ever participated in is tremendously moving. “It was something so unbelievable, so wishful, a great, golden place in sports history,” says sportscaster Alex Giladi, who took much of the amazing footage shown in the film. Fascinating insights emerge as Menkin speaks with Griffin, power forward Eric Minkin, forward Lou Silver, guard Miki Berkovich, center Aulcie Perry, superstar point guard and captain Tal Brody, and Jennifer Boatwright, the widow of small forward Jim Boatwright, in addition to former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps, Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who played with Brody on the U.S. National Team, former NBA commissioner David Stern, NBA commentator Simmy Reguer, and broadcaster Gideon Hod. Among those putting Maccabi’s battles against Italy’s Mobilgirgi Varèse, Spain’s Real Madrid, and Russia’s CSKA Moscow Red Army into political perspective are former finance minister Yair Lapid, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, Maccabi president Shimon Mizrahi, and longtime Soviet prisoner and activist Natan Sharansky.
On the Map is a terrific documentary, particularly because Menkin (39 Pounds of Love, Dolphin Boy) was able to acquire so much outstanding black-and-white and color footage of the events discussed in the film, from Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan greeting the team on court before games to Brody practicing by himself, from players sharing a prophetic cake to head coach Ralph Klein giving inspirational locker-room speeches. There is also archival footage of the 1972 Olympic massacre, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin preparing to resign, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat meeting with U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and the 1976 Air France hijacking that led to Operation Entebbe. In the middle of it all is Brody, a kid from Jersey who helped change Israel and its position on the world stage. “There are some things that are more important than sport,” Stern says. “The excitement was just too much. I wanted more,” Perry asserts with a big smile. On the Map expertly delivers big-time on both accounts. The film opens December 9 at Cinema Village, with Menkin participating in Q&As following the 3:00, 5:00, and 7:00 screenings December 9-11.