'39 Pounds' proves itself a heavyweight [pg. 24]

The film named Israel's best documentary of 2005 will air in private homes across the United States tonight as part of a series of screenings on the prestigious HBO/MAX East cable network, with broadcasts set to stretch into the middle of next month. The broadcasts are the latest in a series of unusual achievements by the Israeli-directed film, 39 Pounds of Love, which received an Ophir - the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar - at the Israeli Academy of Film and Television's annual awards show last fall. An audience favorite at film festivals across the United States, 39 Pounds of Love tells the story of Ami Ankilewitz, an Israeli-American born with SMA/2, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that severely impairs victims' ability to grow and function physically. The doctor who delivered Ankilewitz predicted the infant wouldn't live past the age of six; 34 years later, the film follows him on a road trip across the United States to track down the doctor and show him he'd lived. Its title inspired by Ankilewitz's full-grown adult weight, 39 Pounds won audience and best documentary prizes at a number of American film festivals and was among the final 15 pictures short-listed for a best documentary Academy Award nomination. Though the film didn't ultimately receive an Oscar nod, 39 Pounds continues to demonstrate an appeal and shelf life far exceeding most documentaries, even the art form has surged in popularity and critical notice over the last several years. The film was shown at the United Nations in January to draw attention to a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on the International Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The screening attracted an audience of over 600 people from more than 100 countries, including UN ambassadors from Israel, Canada and Mexico. Reached at his home in Tel Aviv, Ankilewitz said the film will continue to be used as an educational tool and to raise money for Ami's Angels, a non-profit organization founded to promote the use of technology in easing the lives of young people with disabilities. With his own physical capabilities limited to the use of one finger, Ankilewitz has worked as a 3-D animator and said he's currently working full-time doing fundraising for his organization. 39 Pounds' run on the HBO/MAX cable consortium will conclude April 19, three days before the US release of the 39 Pounds DVD, which will include interviews with Dani Menkin, the film's Israeli director, and with audience members following its screening at the UN. "The film has an amazing effect on people," Ankilewitz said on the eve of 39 Pounds' first TV broadcast. "I think it's important for people to see."