It's difficult to go wrong in a feel-good sports documentary, especially when the ramifications reverberate far beyond the court and even the sport as a whole. Menkin interplays old footage with interviews of players today and in some of the more endearing scenes, the original basketball team has gathered in a room wearing their old jerseys to watch games together, clapping each other on the back or shouting at refs from 40 years ago.
On the Map is an extraordinary account and one where you get a sense of how crucial each team member is to the whole. Menkin is also effective at infusing the weight of each game on the country and its place in history, contextualizing all of the games. The games were not merely an escape for Israel at the time, but instrumental in forging a sense of permanence and pride. Because of that focus, On the Map doesn't attempt to go beyond its ebullient portrayal of the Meccabi Tel Aviv, overlooking on what technical basketball terms the team succeeded on. When they do win, it's not completely certain as to why. Although Menkin and the players are quick to point out how outmatched they were in games, it's not ever mentioned as to why they overcome their Goliaths. Although it would have been informative to gain the perspectives of opposing team members or coaches to achieve a more balanced perspective, often the only proposed strength of the Meccabi coach's abilities are that he gives especially motivating speeches before games.
Nevertheless, you never want anything more than for the players to succeed, as Menkin parallels their vulnerable David to that of the growing country's foibles. In the short space of the documentary, you quickly become attached to and admire the players. Even if nothing is attributed to their success other than their spirit, they admittedly have it in glowing, appreciative abundance. It's impossible to leave the theater with anything but an affirmed belief in the possibility of life afterwards.
On the Map is playing as part of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival on Sunday, April 2 at SJCC Mercer Island. Director Dani Menkin will be in attendance.