Colin Offland’s look at an attempt at basketball diplomacy made its premiere at Slamdance this year. It also screened at the Dublin, NYC African Diaspora, and East End fests.

Offland documents the unlikely, controversial decision by former NBA star Dennis Rodman to set up an exhibition basketball game with other pro veterans to face off against a team in North Korea, partly in celebration of his friend Kim Jong-un, a big basketball fan, and partly in some half-cocked idea of thawing international relations through sports a la Nixon-era ping pong diplomacy in China. While the film does a pretty efficient job of providing Modern Korean History 101 lessons for context, and gleefully embraces the absurdity of the non-conformist exemplar somehow serving as an unofficial American ambassador to a nation of enforced conformity, the project, as a whole, is unfortunately cringeworthy, a tone established from the outset with its incessant, cheeky Irish narration. Beyond this irksome device, neither Rodman nor his team bother to entertain the idea that they might just be part of a propaganda exercise, and instead offer soundbites about loving North Korea and it not being as bad as the media says it is – apparently naively believing they’re being given an uncensored experience during their visit. Worse than this, however, is the trainwreck that is Rodman, who responds to the criticism over the trip by succumbing to old addictions, frequently getting drunk and screaming inarticulate nonsense at inopportune moments such as an official dinner or a US news interview. While his more media-savvy teammates try to deflect politically-oriented questions, even denying that the exhibition game is in any way a birthday present to North Korea’s dictator, Rodman can’t help but put his foot in his mouth several times, undercutting the supposedly politics-free nature of this ill-fated cultural exchange. It’s a bizarre premise, not well-executed enough to be either entertaining or informative.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Releases

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