Web Site Traffic Creates Boom for Documentary Film

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The movie 39 Pounds of Love has become an audience favorite at film festivals across the United States. The film tells the story of Ami Ankilewitz, an Israeli-American, born with SMA/2, a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which severely impairs its victims' ability to grow and function physically. The doctor who delivered Ankilewitz predicted the infant would not live past the age of six; 34 years later, the film follows the 39-pound man, on a road trip across the United States, to locate the doctor that diagnosed him and show him he is still alive.

The movie 39 Pounds of Love has become an audience favorite at film festivals across the United States. The film tells the story of Ami Ankilewitz, an Israeli-American, born with SMA/2, a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which severely impairs its victims' ability to grow and function physically. The doctor who delivered Ankilewitz predicted the infant would not live past the age of six; 34 years later, the film follows the 39-pound man, on a road trip across the United States, to locate the doctor that diagnosed him and show him he is still alive.

If the story itself is not inspirational enough, the unusually high traffic generated toward the film’s Web site is. “Documentary films have a unique capacity to capture their core audience, but the sheer volume of fan interest in the film and Web site has been astonishing,” says Executive Director Ed Priddy. The website, 39 Pounds of Love Film Web Site has had almost 2 million hits since the film opened theatrically in December, commented Priddy.

The film 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. Ankiliwitz’ story has drawn a cult like following from particular groups who relate to the film.

When asked, why he has outlived his doctor’s prediction for life expectancy by 31 years (and counting), Ami replies, "It is because I have the soul of a Harley." That comment, plus Ami’s life mission to ride a Harley Davidson, has resonated with Harley owners groups nation wide.

“Harley Davidson and Harley riders have always been a charitable group,” say’s Michael Dean, director of a Los Angeles Harley Owners Group. "And we will support Ami and the 39 Pounds of Love mission wherever possible," added Dean.

The technology news website Digg.com drove significant traffic from animators who were amazed by Ankilewitz’ ability to create 3D animation with the use of only one finger. “Wow this guy weighs 39 pounds and he's overcome all odds, a doctor gave him until the age of 6 to live and now he's on a journey to speak with that doctor,” commented one Digg blogger.

Israeli and Jewish groups have flocked to the Web site as well. “It informs the American public about an Israel beyond the middle east conflict,” says non-theatrical distributor, Ravit Turjeman. The demand for the film and the audience response has been amazing, say’s Turjeman. Her company, Dragoman Films, is booking Ankilewitz for a US tour this summer.

Non-profit organizations for people with disabilities have also helped drive traffic to the site. For example; Families with SMA (FSMA), who have supported the project by posting articles in their newsletter, creating an in house blog page and mobilizing their constituency to support the film and its star (who has SMA/II). The FSMA Web site announced that Families of SMA is proud to be a supporter of this program and is excited to announce that we are listed on the HBO website as a resource for families interested in learning more about Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

The March 22nd HBO/Cinemax broadcast turned out to be another Web event for the film, and the producers say they were not prepared for this additional wave of web traffic and interest in the DVD (which is sold exclusively on the film’s website at 39 Pounds of Love Movie Web Site).

The television broadcast also directed Web goers to Ami’s new foundation. Ankiliwitz spoke from his home in Tel Aviv and commented “The film would continue to be used as an educational tool and will help 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.” Ankilewitz says he is currently working full-time, fundraising for his organization.

It seems Ami’s story is reaching an entirely new audience through the website. Ami’s motto of “Equality through technology” seems more apropos than ever. “We hope the server holds up” says Priddy. More information is available at 39 Pounds of Love Official Web Site.

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Lisa Bracht

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