The story of converted African American and Jewish basketball player Aulcie

For Israelis living in the 1970s and 1980s, Aulcie Perry was “Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in one,” the viewer is told in the documentary “Aulcie.”

Director Dani Menkin’s portrait of the unlikely Israeli superstar basketball player, which is produced by Nancy Spielberg and set to premiere in Los Angeles, New York and on video-on-demand after a couple of years on the Jewish film festival circuit, it might not be. anywhere near the quality level of Jordan’s own documentary series “The Last Dance.” But for Israeli basketball fans, the curiosity factor alone might make “Aulcie” worth checking out.

It’s a poverty-to-wealth family story with a Jewish twist: Perry, an African-American basketball player who grew up poor in Newark, is banned from the New York Knicks, but finds a new opportunity in the game when recruited by an Israeli scout. to join Maccabi Tel Aviv. From 1976 to 1985 he was Maccabi’s star attraction, taking the team two Euroleague and nine Israeli League championships, among other honors.

He also achieves celebrity status in Israel, visiting “all the nightclubs” and entering into a years-long relationship with supermodel Tami Ben-Ami. Perry’s love for his adopted land even leads him to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces, convert to Judaism, and adopt the Hebrew name Elisha ben Avraham. (His journey would continue to inspire other non-Jewish African American players to do the same.)

Ultimately, Perry loses everything to drugs – a heroin addiction threatens her basketball career before the drug possession and conspiracy charges completely derail her. After his ignoble return to the United States, he served several years in prison; Emerged early by Israeli officials to attend a television show honoring his mentor, he moves to Israel permanently to rebuild his life as a coach with glimpses of his former celebrity.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague Basketball Story by Joshua Halickman on page 8 – Image by Othello Hunter of Maccabi Tel Aviv (credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)

These details of Perry’s life are shown on screen with his full participation, and nostalgic Jewish sportsmen will be happy to see him alive and well. But at 71, you shouldn’t have to carry the gear anymore, and yet that’s what ends up happening with the documentary, which can’t help you when it comes to grounded cinematic storytelling.

Menkin is a veteran documentarian best known for his 2005 film “39 Pounds of Love,” which won Israel’s Ophir Award for Best Documentary and was shortlisted for an Oscar, and later received scathing criticism from Roger Ebert, who said the movie “feels uncomfortable.” managed in stages and raises fundamental questions that he simply ignores. “That same sense of scene-handling and half-hearted questioning also applies to” Aulcie, “who makes little effort to explore the interiority of her star, the controversy her conversion sparked. in Israeli society or the complexities of the bond you shared with your teammates and friends in Israel (there are some jokes about culture shock, but they carry no weight).

The film is framed in Perry’s attempts to reconnect with a daughter he never knew, a journey that feels truncated and fabricated for our benefit. Meanwhile, Menkin also avoids any serious discussion about race or outsider; At different points, the viewer is told that “there was no racism” in Israel in the 1970s, and that most Israelis assumed that any tall black man they knew was Aulcie Perry. Elsewhere, an Israeli comedian jokes that to replicate Perry’s height, he would have to “take two Yemenis” and “weld them together.” An incident in which Perry and another black teammate fist fight with the Real Madrid fans is hardly mentioned, except in the context of its historical significance (“this was decades before Malice en el Palacio!” , referring to a famous NBA fight).

Elsewhere, the film’s style becomes comically overloaded: an incessant and shrill musical score accompanies the sparse archival footage of Perry’s performance, digitally manipulated to look aged and erased with iMovie-level effects. B-roll, the lifeblood of any documentary, is scarce here; The narrative about Perry’s talented basketball prowess as a young man is strangely accompanied by current images of him shooting at the hoop as a septuagenarian.

The strongest interpersonal relationship we envision is between Perry and Shmulik “Shamluk” Machrowski, the outgoing general manager of Maccabi Tel Aviv, who first recruited him. That Israeli TV show that Perry attends towards the end of the movie is for Machrowski, and the scene where they hug after Perry’s fall from grace for a decade is truly moving. Perry continues to enjoy the status of a sports legend in Israel, and a more honest consideration of his journey to this point would have been a better movie.

“Aulcie” premieres in Los Angeles on November 12, and in New York and November 16 on VOD.

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