Slightly belated congratulations from BallinEurope to Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis, recipient of funding from European Union film subsidy organization Eurimages for his biographical film based on the life of much decorated Maccabi Tel Aviv player/coach Ralph Klein.
Eurimages representatives announced Riklis’ “Playoff” as one of 14 European co-productions to receive backing for production, distribution and/or other budget concerns. “Playoff” was awarded €400,000 to assist in the business of cinema.
Film industry trade publication Variety described “Playoff” as “about an Israeli basketball coach who escaped Nazi persecution in his native Germany but returned years later to train West Germany’s national basketball team” and noted that the film “has already received north of $1.5 million [€1.12 million] from German subsidy [organizations].”
As a Jew living in Budapest at the start of World War II, Klein’s family was spared the horrors of concentration camps by the efforts of Raoul Wallenberg; his father wasn’t so lucky, however, becoming another victim of Auschwitz. Klein played pro basketball as a teen in Hungary in the late 40s and, soon after immigrating to Israel in 1951, got with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Klein would go on to win eight Israeli League championships as a player and a crazy 14 more as a coach (plus one European club championship: the European Cup, in 1977), eventually becoming known as “The Father of Israeli Basketball,” but it’s Klein’s work guiding a Continental team to an eighth-place finish in an international tournament that most captured Riklis’ imagination.
As the director told Indie London after the release of “Lemon Tree” in England in December, “Playoff” is
about a very famous basketball coach from Israel who, in the late 70s, was invited by Germany to come and coach their national team. … So, it’s about a Holocaust survivor coming back to Germany 30 years later to coach the national team. It was a very strange situation but he decided to do it. The film follows his first two months coping with that. The coach is a guy who won the European Championship twice with Maccabi Tel Aviv, which is like Manchester United in basketball terms. He was really a star and the fact that the Germans took him in was sensational at the time. It’s an interesting psychological journey given the complexities of the past and how things are changing.
After coaching West Germany in the 1984 Olympics and the 1985 European Championships plus BSC Saturn Köln, Klein returned to Israel to coach his country’s national team and ended up taking one more Israel League title, a Cup win with Hapoel Tel Aviv in 1992.
No solid production dates have been set for “Playoff” as of yet, but with his “The Mission of the Human Resources Manager” well into post-production, “Playoff” production will certainly begin soon. So figure a … 2012 release, perhaps?