Director Marius Markevicius says: "Led by the trail-blazing skills of Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis, the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team helped their country break free from the shackles of Communism. The film documents the players’ personal stories living in the Soviet Union, their struggles under Communist rule, their unique partnership with the Grateful Dead leading up to the Barcelona Olympics, and ultimately their triumph as a newly-free nation. The film follows a special group of athletes who journeyed from behind the Iron Curtain to see the rebirth of their homeland – and their own free will. It is a mix of politics, basketball and pop culture that demonstrates how sports can be a catalyst for global change and a powerful force in shaping political and cultural identity.
"I was born and raised in L.A. as a first generation Lithuanian-American and a bonified sports nut. However, while most of my friends were playing baseball or soccer on Saturdays I was "compelled" to attend Lithuanian Saturday school. I'd have to study language, religion, history and folk dancing. Needless to say, there were some battles with the parents over this, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? As I got older I realized what a blessing it was to learn about my family's culture, my roots, to learn the language and be able to converse with my grandparents in Lithuanian. When Lithuania got its independence in 1990 and we were able to visit for the first time, it was incredible to speak with my relatives and have an understanding of what the country and culture was all about.
"The biggest challenge in producing this project was no doubt the sheer distance and remoteness of our interview subjects. Many of them live in Lithuania, others were Russia, the Ukraine. A handful were around the U.S. We did interviews in L.A., San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Sebastapol, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, New York, New Jersey, and even Vermont! The Grateful Dead plays a prominent role in our film, they donated money to the Lithuanian team to help them in their journey. Well, the Grateful Dead helped us in our journey too... "Truckin" became our theme song on long road trips and flights and the song made it into the film as well. It had to.
"With everything happening in the world today, particularly in the Middle East, I hope that audiences will watch my film and realize that the fight for freedom is 100% worth it. The fight for freedom is not easy, there is a lot of pain and suffering along the way. And once you get "freedom" that doesn't mean that things will magically become perfect overnight."
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
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