The Other Dream Team

The Other Dream Team


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Over the past two weeks of the London 2012 Olympics, the word "legacy" has come up a lot, with many wondering what the lasting effect of the Games will be. Marius Markevicius' excellent debut documentary demonstrates that the Olympics can have a real and lasting sociopolitical impact, as his film explores how the Lithuanian basketball team came to symbolise the country's hard-fought independence from Soviet rule.

Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis - who would eventually go on to be NBA stars - were leading lights of Lithuanian basketball in the Eighties but, as the tiny country was held in thrall by the USSR, they along with Rimas Kurtinaitis and Valdemaras Chomicius were forced to play for the Soviet squad in 1988. In fact, there was actually only one Russian in the starting line-up.

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In the wake of the 1991 split from the Soviets - who had stymied their careers - the Lithuanians were determined to prove themselves by qualifying for the Barcelona Games. It was a decision that marked the beginning of an incredible fight for funding that would ultimately lead, through manoeuvring I won't spoil here, to the incredible sight of the Lithuanian team brandishing medals in skeleton-adorned Grateful Dead tie-dye T-shirts having adopted the motto: Better Dead Than Red.

Using excellent archive footage, along with still photography, animated to retain the film's momentum, Markevicius talks to members of the bronze medal-winning squad - who took on the famous Magic Johnson/Michael Jordan US "Dream Team" and the Russian Federation - about their success and looks back to the origins of Lithuania's love affair with basketball. Although being framed by a history of a sport, it's the spirit of the country that is the star player. Sabonis and Marcilulionis recount incredible anecdotes, while expert external observations are provided by the likes of NBA commissioner David Stern regarding the bravery of the pair, who risked being sent to Siberia by signing for the NBA. Markevicius also finds time to look towards the future, through the fledgling career of NBA hopeful Jonas Valanciunas.

Although covering an incredible amount of ground, Markevicius' film never feels rushed or laboured. It's also testimony to his skill - and that of editor Dan Marks - that the complexity of the political situation is woven seamlessly into this intensely personal and uplifting sports narrative. No knowledge of Lithuania or basketball are required to be fully absorbed in this tale of a team and a nation who wouldn't give up. A real slam dunk.

Reviewed on: 12 Aug 2012
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The 1992 Lithuanian National Basketball Team went from the clutches of Communism to the Summer Olympics in Barcelona – a testament to the powerful role of sports as a catalyst for cultural identity.
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