This review of The Other Dream Team was originally published as part of a Doc Talk column roundup of Sundance coverage on the now-defunct site Movies.com on January 26, 2012.
Oddly enough, this is my first experience with filmmaker Marius A. Markevicius, a Sundance regular who co-produced last year’s big narrative winner, Like Crazy, as well as Drake Doremus’ 2010 entry, Douchebag. Now he makes his feature directorial debut with this documentary about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, which came in third place behind the Gold-medal-winning all-stars of the US “Dream Team.” The festival’s film guide makes it sound more focused on that summer in Barcelona than it actually is. The doc is a sort of underdog sports drama, but not like anything we’re used to. The Other Dream Team is about a victory much greater than winning an international tournament. The Bronze trinkets the Lithuanian players received represent a triumph 40 years in the making.
There is a minor issue of focus throughout the film, especially if you go in thinking that it’s primarily about the Barcelona games. The dramatized remake, if there ever is one, will likely center on the years between 1988 when much of the Lithuanian team played for the Gold-winning Soviets and 1992 when their final match-up after losing to the Americans was against the former Soviet states making up the CIS Unified Team. Those four years also include their hook up with the Grateful Dead as celebrity sponsor, complete with tie-dyed jerseys.
To properly document the story of the “other dream team,” however, we need to go back and learn the histories of basketball in Lithuania and of the nation’s occupation throughout the Cold War. That’s the only way we could understand what the win at Barcelona really means. Otherwise, it’s just a basic sports movie in which the game is all that matters. A parallel narrative in the film follows a more current story of a young Lithuanian athlete with NBA prospects, and while it’s mostly a thin, extraneous diversion, it’s also an original means of laying out a story’s prologue alongside, and parallel to, the main events.