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Estonian film tells the the true story of KK Kalev, the basketball team that won the 1990-91 USSR league, in a resounding victory against communism - sports drama premieres at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


The powerful will and the never-say-die attitude of this local Estonian basketball team found itself challenging the best teams in the Soviet Union, while teams from neighbouring countries such as Lithuania decided not to adhere to the Soviet Union regime. For Jaak Salumets (Mait Malmsten) though, the coach of the best team in Estonia, this presents a challenge to fight against the oppression. Not everyone takes his decision lightly, at least at first. And yet, what better way to make a statement than to win a championship against the odds, because like one player on the team professes so elegantly, “We are not a tank unit, we just play basketball” and it just doesn’t ring truer than that.

Sports is often used as an accompanying piece for more serious problems, in films such as Spike Lee’s He Got Game (1998) or Scott Kalvert’s Basketball Diaries (1995) both explore some very humanistic issues like family and drug abuse. Kalvert instead uses basketball in order to highlight world problems of much large magnitude. Director Ove Musting has managed to capture the true beauty of basketball in this film and how powerful sports can be in times of unrest – the sport and the team offered the people a beacon of hope when things became dark and sombre.

It does take a while for the basketball scenes to fully integrate into the film, but they ultimately feet very authentic when they did appear. Kalev is a breath of fresh air because the players aren’t highly tuned super athletes with a case of gigantism, instead, they are just regular men with a passion for the sport, cogs in a well-oiled machine that make use of the limited resources that they have at their disposal.

Kalev is a film that doesn’t need any glitz and glamour for it to excel; none of that fancy editing or experimental cinematography creates an allure of a great film because, it is a great film in its own right and even without any of those frills. Solid filmmaking and a wonderfully fact-based story are the only ingredients required for an effective and entertaining movie. Here, the story is allowed to thrive in this environment. Kalev avoids predictability and tiresome cliches. There is no single hero, no outcast seeking redemption. Instead, egos are left at the door. This is not a movie about one individual player seeking stardom, but instead about a country seeking self-determination. And it won’t be allowed to enter into overtime. Kalev is a solid film about basketball and the struggle against tyranny.

Kalev just premiered in the Baltic Competition of the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By John McDonald - 22-11-2022

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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