March 22, 2006, Updated September 13, 2012

‘I have the soul of a Harley Davidson,’ says Ami Ankilewitz, the subject of the documentary ’39 Pounds of Love’.39 Pounds of Love, an acclaimed Israeli documentary, will be screened throughout the United States on the HBO/MAX cable network beginning this week, with broadcasts set to stretch into the middle of next month, The Jerusalem Post reported.

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.

“One must never give up hope for love and for life. I have the soul of a Harley Davidson. Even after I die, I shall be alive,” he says in the film, written, directed and produced by Israeli filmmaker Dani Menkin.

“I am a filmmaker and I’m always looking for a good story,” Menkin told the Dayton Jewish Observer. When he first saw Ami in 2001, Menkin was on a blind date at a bar in Israel.

“I was distracted by something that looked like a plastic doll, but when I looked again, I was shocked to realize that it was a real person in a wheelchair. He was drinking beer through a straw and surrounded by friends and a beautiful girl. I was no longer interested in the date and I went over to meet him. Ami was an incredible story.”

Co-producer of the film Daniel J. Chalfen describes it as a happy accident.

“Dani decided to make a small local film about the life of this medical miracle and how normal a life he leads. After following him for about one day a week, in which he saw how Ami fell in love with a caregiver and was going to have to ask her to leave, and how he told his family he was going to visit the United States, Dani said he was blown away,” he told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Menkin, a writer, producer and director in Israel, is a reporter for the Israeli Sports Channel. He created a highly-acclaimed television series for the National Geographic Channel as well as other films including Wisdom Of The Pretzel, which won first place at the Israeli Film Festival in Miami and was nominated for 10 Israeli Oscars.

Menkin discovered that Ankilewitz speaks three languages, has a Harley Davidson tattoo and is pretty much an ordinary guy except that he communicates with a microphone and weighs only 39 pounds.

“(The) documentary brings you to many crazy places,” says Menkin. “I think that it is successful because it touches people so much and because they are surprised that it doesn’t bring them down. It is also such an exceptional story that includes so much love for family, women, animation, life and, of course, Harley Davidsons.”

The opening film at 2005’s DocAviv documentary festival in Tel Aviv, 39 Pounds of Love won the best documentary award later that month at the Palm Beach Film Festival in Florida. The film has been screened at a number of other American festivals and took the prize for best documentary at the Ophir Awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars. It was among the final 15 pictures short-listed for a best documentary Academy Award nomination.

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 Post reported. The screening attracted an audience of over 600 people from more than 100 countries, including UN ambassadors from Israel, Canada and Mexico.

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. “The film has an amazing effect on people,” Ankilewitz said. “I think it’s important for people to see.”

The DVD of 39 Pounds of Love will be released in the US on April 22, three days after the HBO/MAX run concludes.

More on Culture

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: