It was the year, according to filmmaker Dani Menkin, when everything felt right. It was 1977 and the Maccabi basketball team was making history for the young country. Many years later, Menkin would make a documentary about the “miracle on hardwood” that played such a big part of his childhood. When I spoke with him on July 21, 2016, it was just before his film, ON THE MAP, was screened at the 36th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and one of the things he most wanted to get across was that this was a story for everyone, not just sports fans. I can attest to that. I don’t follow sports, but I found the way Menkin unfolded this story in the context of the Cold War, and a nascent peace process abroad not just fascinating, it also one that kept me on the edge of my seat.
I was most curious about how it was for Menkin to sit down with the team he idolized as a kid, and then to watch films of those 1977 games with them, and whether or not using those feelings was something he wanted to bring to his film, or something he had to work against. And, of course, just how it was that pastry changed history.
ON THE MAP is his documentary about basketball, Israel, and how pastry can change history. In 1977 the Maccabi basketball team was poised to take the European title after years of defeat. Led by Americans who had joined the team for a variety of reasons, the young nation held its breath, and stayed glued to the nearest television, as the Maccabi refused to let long odds, or family emergencies, stop them. Told with historical context, as well as the personal stories of the team members themselves, this David and Goliath story is a gripping tale of courage and chutzpah that transcends sports. Menkin’s previous work includes 39 POUNDS OF LOVE and IS THAT YOU.