‘AULCIE’ is a story about redemption.
(photo credit: ILLUSTRATION ASSAF ZELLNER)
One of the highlights of this year’s 22nd Miami Jewish Film Festival, which runs from January 10 to 24, will be a preview of clips from Dani Menkin’s new, upcoming documentary, Aulcie, a look at the fascinating life of Aulcie Perry, one of Israel’s most famous American immigrants. Perry, born in a tough Newark neighborhood, became a professional basketball player but never made it to the NBA and instead became a star of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the seventies. He played for Maccabi in 1977 when it defeated the Russian team and won the FIBA European Champions Cup, perhaps the most exciting moment in the history of Israeli sports.
He dated the top Israeli model Tami Ben Ami – “She was like Bar Refaeli is today,” said Menkin — and converted to Judaism, taking the name Elisha ben Avraham. This meant he could be counted as an Israeli player on Maccabi, not a foreign one, but he insisted he was a sincere convert.
Just as he was at the height of his fame, he had a tremendous fall from grace, becoming addicted to all kinds of drugs, including heroin, to self-medicate the knee pain that threatened to end his career. In the mid-eighties, he was arrested for trying to smuggle several pounds of heroin into the US and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Now he is sober and living in Israel again, and has chosen to open up in this documentary. “The story of Aulcie Perry has all the elements of a great movie, all the highs and lows,” said Menkin in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. Menkin is sure Perry’s story will resonate with audiences, whether they lived through Perry’s triumph and downfall or are hearing about him now for the first time.
“It’s a story about redemption, how he got his life back, how he found his way back to Israel,” said Menkin.
“I was a kid when Aulcie first came to Israel. I am honored he chose me to tell his story.... I have asked him to make this movie for 20 years. I can tell you, it was very hard for him to speak about it. He was ashamed and embarrassed. But he decided to go ahead.”
Menkin has had great success with both documentaries and feature films. His 2005 documentary, 39 Pounds of Love, about a severely disabled animation artist, was acquired by HBO and was an international success. In 2016, he made On the Map, a documentary about Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1977 European victory, which was executive-produced by Nancy Spielberg, and which featured Perry. It takes its name from the ecstatic quote from Tal Brody at the close of the game, that the win had put Israel “on the map.”
“But even before I made On the Map, I wanted to tell Aulcie’s story,” he said. Menkin’s production company, Hey Jude, is named for the line from the Beatles song that goes “Take a sad song and make it better.” Said Menkin, “I see myself as an ambassador for good stories.”
Although he has many plans for upcoming films, “My main goal now is to finish Aulcie,” he said, and he hopes that by getting the word out at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, he will raise the money he needs to finish the film. To see the trailer for the film, go to http://heyjudeproductions.com/portfolio/aulcie-perry/ and to donate money to finish Aulcie, go to http://heyjudeproductions.com/donate/ The preview of some moving clips from Aulcie will be just one of many exciting programs at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, which will open with Eliran Malka’s The Unorthodox, a drama about the founding of the Shas Party. It will close with a screening of Avi Nesher’s The Other Story. There will be 12 world premieres, more than 25 guests from around the world and a number of special programs, which will include a spotlight on women filmmakers and a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of Stanley Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut.To find out more about the Miami Jewish Film Festival schedule and to buy tickets, go to https://miamijewishfilmfestival.org/.
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