AULCIE, a documentary film about the rise, fall, and rebound of African-American Maccabi Tel Aviv BasketBall Club Player Aulcie Perry was written and directed by Israeli Academy Award winner Dani Menkin of Hey Jude Productions(“39 Pounds of Love” and “Is That You?”) and executive produced by Nancy Spielberg (“Above and Beyond”) and Sports Emmy Nominated Jon Weinbach (“The Last Dance”).
In this companion to Menkin’s 2016 sports documentary “On the Map,” we learn more about Aulcie Perry, a player from Newark, New Jersey whose dreams of playing NBA basketball were crushed when he was the last player to be cut by the New York Nicks in favor of someone with more experience. As uninitiated viewers see in the beautifully crafted opening sequence, instead of playing in the NBA, “he became a basketball legend in Israel…”
What many American viewers of “On the Map” don’t know but learn along with viewers unfamiliar with the story of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 1977 European Championship win against the Soviet team is that Aulcie Perry “then disappeared.”
After two European Championship wins, a storied but doomed romance, and a conviction in an Israeli court, Aulcie Perry was deported. His mentor and Maccabi Tel Aviv General Manager Shmulik “Shamluk” Machrowski was torn apart. For Shamluk, it was like losing his own son. For Perry, things were about to get worse. During a visit to Amsterdam in 1986, Perry heard a loud knock on his hotel room door. Before opening it, he looked through the peephole. “The whole floor was police,” he says. Interpol. There to execute an international warrant. The charge? Conspiracy.
For fans of Perry and the Maccabi Tel Aviv BasketBall Club team, his fall and sudden departure were shocking. For his teenage son, Aulcie Perry Jr., who’d lived with his father in Israel for two years, it was confusing. He just wanted to know the truth, he says. But nobody would tell him.
In this documentary, Aulcie Perry tells the truth. We hear him first in voiceover: “I always knew one thing, that I wanted to tell you my story. The way it is, with the good, and the bad.” And then we see him against a black background in what appears to be a large, open room. He is sitting in a chair. In the foreground facing away from us and looking at him is a woman.
Rather than start his story at the beginning, Perry starts at what he thought was the end of his life—a near death experience that was the impetus for him to find and reconnect with her.
Then we travel with Perry back to the United States where he talks about what it was like for his family living in North Carolina and shows us his old Newark neighborhood. Through his words and archival footage, we get a glimpse into the world of a schoolboy in the mid- and late 1960s as he navigates the violence of the streets, violence driven by prejudice and demands for civil rights and by poverty, addiction, and gang activity. This stands in sharp contrast to Perry’s experience in Israel where he was welcomed with open arms, where there was little discrimination against Black men, and where he was a national treasure.
AULCIE hits all the public highlights: Perry’s role in the 1977 European Championship game, his romance with Israeli model—not a model, the model—Tami Ben-Ami, his conversion to Judaism, and his deportation and the subsequent breakdown of his relationship with Ben-Ami. The film also tells the story of what happened after his 1986 arrest for conspiracy, never losing its connection to the backbone of the story—Perry’s search for and reunion with her, the woman in the chair opposite.
Like a great basketball game, the film is fast-paced but not frenetic. All the players from director Menkin to cinematographers Jessy Newman, Marc Levy, Ronen Mayo, and Itai Raziel to composer Christopher Gubisch to sound designer Philippe Gozlan and sound recordist Shimshon Yanai to animator Assaf Zellner to film editor Drew Lahat worked together to present something moving and memorable. Most impressive is how the filmmakers captured Perry’s steady, contemplative nature and the political, professional, and personal drama visually and acoustically. One is the rhythm. The other the beat.
It cannot be left unsaid that Perry’s sister Bernadine Perry-Davis’ account provides a different point of view and an emotional through line. From a technical perspective, there are no extraneous details. And nothing is wasted. The cuts are purposeful and precise, moving the story forward and keeping viewers connected to “the third rail.”
AULCIE is a sports documentary that will resonate with fans of ESPN’s “30 for 30” (for which Weinbach also produced). But it also speaks to the heart of any person—and especially parent—who’s ever made choices that they knew were wrong. At its heart, AULCIE is a story about reconciling all the parts of ourselves and with those we’ve wronged in the process. It’s about finding oneself and one’s place, being embraced and embracing.
True to his vision for Hey Jude Productions, with AULCIE, Menkin uses the medium of film to tell a bitter-sweet story. He and his subject, Aulcie Perry, took a sad song and made it better.
AULCIE is winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2020 San Diego International Jewish Film Festival and Opening Night Selection for the 2020 New York Jewish Film Festival. It opened in Los Angeles on November 12, 2021, and New York City on November 16. It will be available online November 19th. You can watch the trailer here.
Aulcie Perry standing: Gannet-CDN
Film poster and Aulcie Perry sitting in synagogue: Hey Jude Productions
Maccabi Tel Aviv BasketBall team group image: SolveIsraelsProblems
Aulcie Perry and Tami Ben-Ami: filmlinc.org
Dani Menkin at the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival 2020: Interview on Hey Jude Production’s YouTube channel
“the third rail”: Cron, Lisa. Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere). Ten Speed Press; 1st edition (August 9, 2016). Print.