Filmmaker Dani Menkin Brings His Idol’s Story to Life in ‘Aulcie’

“Aulcie” documents the rollercoaster life of famous player No. 8 and how his relationship with Israel and the Jewish people ultimately lead to his conversion to Judaism and adopting the Hebrew name Elisha ben Avraham.
October 15, 2020
Photo courtesy of Hey Jude Productions

In 2016, filmmaker and documentarian Dani Menkin (“39 Pounds of Love”) released “On the Map,” which chronicled the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team that overcame daunting odds to win six EuroLeague championships. That film won an Ophir, Israel’s Academy Award.

Although the “Dolphin Boy” co-director enjoyed documenting his favorite sport, Menkin sensed the bigger story was Aulcie Perry.

After following Perry’s career for more than 20 years, Menkin was driven to tell the story of the 6-foot-10 American Israeli basketball player who helped the Maccabi team win two of its six EuroLeague titles (1976-77, 1980-81). It was Perry’s compelling life story and legacy that inspired Menken’s latest project.

Released in January, “Aulcie” documents the roller-coaster life of renowned player No. 8 and how his relationship with Israel and the Jewish people ultimately led to his conversion to Judaism and the adoption of the Hebrew name Elisha ben Avraham.

Courtesy of Hey Jude Productions

“I grew up with this game. He was my childhood hero,” Menkin told the Journal via Zoom. “There was just one channel and we all watched basketball. We watched Aulcie.”

Angelenos will have the opportunity to see the film virtually, courtesy of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival (LAJFF). The film, executive produced by Nancy Spielberg, will premiere in L.A. on Oct. 15-18 in a run-up to a live Zoom Q&A panel on the film on Oct. 18. Menkin, Perry, producer Jon Weinbach and award-winning journalist K.J. Matthews will all be present to discuss the film.

Menkin said he’s excited to share this story with American audiences because Perry’s fame cemented his status as an international phenomenon, yet many don’t know his full story. He noted to this day many Israelis don’t know what happened to Perry. In 1987, at the height of Perry’s career, he was convicted of drug-smuggling and was sentenced to 10 years in a U.S. prison. For a decade, Israelis didn’t know where he went after that life-altering moment.

“He just disappeared,” Menkin said. “He felt like the country that brought his dream to life, he felt like he disappointed everybody, disappointed himself. The thing was that Israel always loved him and embraced him …. What happened to him was unbelievable. Where he came from, where he found himself, where he fell, the way he came back. It’s one of those things where life takes you on a journey.”

In a time when opinions and actions are highly politicized and divided, Menkin said he thinks it’s the perfect time to remind people of the strong relationship between Black people and Jewish people by sharing Perry’s “wonderful love story with Israel.”

In a time when things are highly politicized and divided, he thinks it’s a perfect time to remind people of the strong relationship between Black people and Jewish people by sharing Perry’s “wonderful love story with Israel.”

Growing up in Israel, Menkin idolized Perry. As a child, Menkin aspired to play basketball professionally. His calling to write and direct came after working as a sports journalist. He said he always was drawn to telling compelling stories about things he was passionate about. Because of this — and a popular Beatles song — he created Hey Jude Productions.

“It’s from the line of the Beatles, ‘Take a sad song and make it better.’ That’s what we try to do and that’s what you can see with ‘Aulcie,’ ” the writer and director said. “The bittersweetness of this film is what we are trying to do.”

In order to tell the most authentic version of Perry’s story, the Israeli filmmaker spent hours with Perry although the former athlete wasn’t always eager to talk about the personal and painful details of his life.

Yes, Perry was the “It Man” of Israel, dated Israeli model Tami Ben Ami and  Menkin referred to the couple as the Israeli “Brangelina,” and fell in love with Israel, but he struggled with turbulent life events that made him who he is today. The film follows how he overcame American racism, language and cultural barriers, heartbreak and his battle with substance abuse. Another major element was mending relationships with his children.

Menkin said Perry called him from the editing room to say the story they thought they had wrapped wasn’t over. Menkin said Perry told him that  his daughter, who hadn’t seen him 20 years, wanted to meet with him and have a relationship. Menkin stopped post-production and continued to film in order to incorporate their relationship into the story.

“In many ways, he tells us this story but he wants to tell her the story,” Menkin said. “I don’t want her to look into Google or Wikipedia and get that version of the story. I want her to hear [Perry’s] version of the story so [he] can reach out to her. That really surprised me with that journey.” 

Menkin, who now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids, feels this film is one that will resonate deeply with American audiences because it taps into a shared love of basketball and social change. When the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA title on Oct. 11, it was emotional for many reasons. The pandemic-interrupted season had been reformatted to raise awareness of racial injustice and COVID-19. Los Angeles and the basketball world also were still mourning the loss of Laker legend Kobe Bryant, who died with eight others in a helicopter crash in January, and honoring his legacy after winning the title. Menkin hopes Perry’s life experiences resonate beyond the sports world and help others overcome challenges.

Dani Menkin. Photo courtesy of Hey Jude Productions.

“What is nice about the Lakers winning is that the NBA tried to make a statement that was larger than just basketball,” Menkin said. “Aulcie has so much to give, I hope people see the beauty of that in his story. When they see the redemption Aulcie went through, the closure he had in his life, I hope people will be inspired because everyone is facing challenges. That’s why I am trying to bring this good inspiring story [to them].”

“Aulcie” will stream during a 72-hour window from Oct. 15-18 with a Q&A panel scheduled for 11 a.m. PDT Oct. 18. To find out how to stream “Aulcie” and virtually attend the panel discussion, visit the LAJFF’s website.

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