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The Independent Critic

Sarunas Marciulionis, Arvydas Sabonis, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Jonas Valanciunas, Bill Walton, Jim Lampley, Dan Majerle, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Marius A. Markevicius
Marius A. Markevicius, Jon Weinbach
89 Mins.
Lionsgate/Film Arcade

 "The Other Dream Team" One of the Year's Most Involving Sports Docs 
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"Better dead than red" became the battle cry of the 1992 Lithuanian bronze medal-winning Olympic basketball team, a team that was, believe it or not, actually financially supported by none other than the Grateful Dead following the Dead's learning of the nation's staunch resistance a year earlier to a Soviet invasion. A nation of a mere 3 million people, Lithuania was stuck during World War II between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union before eventually being relegated as a member state of the U.S.S.R.

The Other Dream Team, from filmmaker Marius A. Markevicius (Like Crazy), was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize - Documentary during this year's Sundance Film Festival before being picked up by Lionsgate Films and The Film Arcade for a limited nationwide arthouse run that begins on September 28th of this year. The film is a sports documentary but, in actuality, is so much more. The Other Dream Team is about freedom, the human spirit, the unquenchable thirst for self-expression and so much more. Markevicius captures all of this beautifully in virtually every way possible, creating a film with emotionally resonant and compelling interviews while also being visually appealing and of the highest quality technically.

Until the fall of the Soviet Union, star players of the basketball-crazed Lithuania were forced to play for this nation that they actually despised. Four Lithuanians, including future NBA'ers Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis,  were in the starting line-up for the 1988 gold medal-winning Soviet basketball team.

The Other Dream Team contains a wealth of high quality interviews from Sabonis and Marciulionis, whose vivid memories and remarkable honesty reveal tremendous pain at the ways in which they were treated during the years before Lithuania's basketball team was finally able to play as an independent nation. Sabonis shares the tremendous risks that the players took in being drafted by the NBA, including the risk of being sent off to Siberia should they actually end up signing. It's hard not to become misty-eyed listening to the players, whose love of and desire for freedom radiates in their words as much as it did in their basketball.

In 1992, the Lithuania basketball team captured the bronze medal in the Olympics, and anyone familiar with basketball can remember their showing up at the podium with Grateful Dead inspired dreads and tie-dyed jerseys. Yet, even before that emotionally powerful podium scene, it was stunningly powerful in the game before as Lithuania defeated the Soviet Union and proved, perhaps, that sports really can help to change the world in ways big and small.

Dustin O'Halloran's original music along with the sounds of music supervisor Marc Weinbach weave themselves together to create a spirit and energy that perfectly complements the story of Lithuania's journey towards freedom. While the film itself seems just a tad out of focus, D.P. Jesse Feldman's camera work is crystal clear and beautifully captures the images of sports triumph and the claiming of a national identity.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic