Basketball Documentary Kicks Off Hartford Jewish Film Festival

As the NCAA basketball tournaments get started and Connecticut dives into its annual obsession with bracketology, the Mandell JCC Hartford Jewish Film Festival celebrates basketball, too. It's 21st annual 10-day festival will open on March 16 with a documentary about an extraordinary athletic feat that happened in 1977.

"On the Map" tells the story of how the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team won the European Championship, defeating all other European competitors including the Soviet team that initially refused to play against Israelis.

The victory was improbable: In the championship's previous 19 years, only teams from the Soviet Union, Italy and Spain had won. The underdog victory was accomplished by blending home-grown talent with imported players from the United States, including Tal Brody and Aulcie Perry of New Jersey and Jim Boatwright of Idaho.

The surprise win raised the spirits of the country, which was still traumatized from the 1972 Olympic Games massacre, the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 1976 hijacking of a airliner from Tel Aviv.

Dani Menkin's film includes interviews with the surviving players as well as Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton, former NBA Commissioner David Stern; Michael Oren, Israel's former ambassador to the United States; and Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician and former prisoner in Soviet jails.

"On the Map," which will be shown at 7:30 p.m. that day, is one of 18 film offerings for the festival. The fest runs from March 16 to 26 at the Mandell JCC, 335 Bloomfield Ave. in West Hartford; Spotlight Theatres, 39 Front St. in Hartford; Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Mohegan Drive in West Hartford; Cinepolis West Hartford in Blue Back Square; and Bloomfield 8, 863 Park Ave.

Here's the rest of the lineup:

March 18

Moos, a Dutch-language drama about an under-appreciated young woman who finally comes into her own, professionally and romantically. 9 p.m. at Mandell JCC

March 19

Supergirl, a doc about a 12-year-old Jewish girl from New Jersey who holds a world record in power lifting. 1 p.m. at Spotlight.

Shtisel, two episodes of an Israeli TV drama about the trials and tribulations of a dysfunctional Orthodox family in Jerusalem. 1 p.m. at Spotlight.

Fire Birds, a drama/mystery about a man who pretends to be a Holocaust survivor to fleece widows. 4:30 p.m. at Spotlight.

Hill Start, a comic drama about a comatose woman, her husband, who is falling for his driving instructor, and their confused grown children. 4:30 p.m. at Spotlight.

AKA Nadia, a drama about an Palestinian woman who makes a life-altering decision, then years later her past catches up with her. 7:30 p.m. at Spotlight.

Sabena Hijacking: My Version, a dramatization, with documentary commentary, of a 1972 plane hijacking by members of Palestinian sympathizers Black September. 7:30 p.m. at Spotlight.

March 20

The Man Who Saved the Louvre, a historical doc, with animation, about Jacques Jaujard, who rescued the Louvre's artworks during WWII. 6 p.m. at Mandell JCC.

Big Sonia, a profile of a Holocaust survivor evicted from the tailor shop where she has worked for decades, the only store left in an old mall. 8:15 p.m. at Mandell JCC.

March 21

Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown, a doc about the comic icon, focusing on his revered status among non-American film intellectuals. To be shown with The Last Blintz, a short doc about Cafe Edison, a New York deli in Times Square, which was closed due to gentrification and rising rents. 1 p.m. at Emanuel Synagogue.

My Hero Brother, a travel story about a group of developmentally disabled young Israelis on a mountaineering trek through India. 7 p.m. at Emanuel Synagogue.

March 22 and 23

The Women's Balcony, a feel-good drama of female empowerment in a Jerusalem synagogue taken over by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi. March 22 at 7 p.m. at Cinepolis.

The Origin of Violence, a drama about a man who becomes obsessed when he sees a photo at Buchenwald of a prisoner who looks just like him. March 23 at 7 p.m. at Cinepolis.

Last Band in Lebanon, a goofy story of three IDF soldiers stuck in Lebanon dealing with guns, Hezbollah, barbed wire and a drug dealer. March 23 at 7 p.m. at Cinepolis.

March 24 and 25

Both at Mandell JCC: Shtisel, (repeat). March 24 at 11 a.m.; and Mr. Predictable, a comic drama about a good but unexciting husband whose personality changes after he gets some shocking news. 9 p.m.

March 26

All at Bloomfield 8: AKA Nadia, (repeat) 2 p.m.; Sabena Hijacking: My Version, (repeat) 2 p.m.; Fire Birds, (repeat) 4:15 p.m.; Hill Start, (repeat) 4:15 p.m.

And at 7 p.m., Fanny's Journey, a fact-based World War II drama about a group of Jewish children who must find their way to safety without adult supervision.

General admission for most films is $12 in advance; $15 at the door; $1 off for Wadsworth Atheneum members and Let's Go Arts cardholders. Tickets and details about speakers and receptions: hjff.org.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the title of "Mr. Predictable."

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