Crooners celebrate Canuckia’s Cohen and a first for our very own Greenberg
Saturday the 24th
A Leonard Cohen love fest takes place at Royce Hall this evening. The enigmatic genius poet/songwriter is paid tribute in an event titled “The Gospel According to Leonard Cohen,” which is presented by Perla Batalla, a vocalist with whom he has frequently worked. While surprise guests are promised, confirmed performers include Jackson Browne, Michael McDonald, Howard Tate, Bill Gable, Bill Frisell and Don Was.
Tuesday the 27th
Despite what we feel is a terrible title, “Melanoma My Love” may be worth your attention. The interesting premise of this Israeli film is a tragic tale about a young dancer who is diagnosed with melanoma at age 30, and given only three months to live. Not wanting to shatter her spirit with such precious time left, her husband chooses to hide the prognosis from her. The film screens — with a conversation with star Sharon Zukerman to follow — at UC Irvine tonight, and Pomona College tomorrow.
Feb. 27, UC Irvine.
Thursday the 1st
Local author T Cooper signs her new acclaimed novel, “Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes” at Malibu’s Diesel bookstore on Wednesday, and Skylight Books today. To quote Publisher’s Weekly’s assessment of her latest, “[Cooper] takes apart the usual Jewish heritage tale and the themes of assimilation, touching them with postmodern parody and Chagallesque folk magic.”
Feb. 28, 7 p.m., Diesel, A Bookstore, 3890 Cross Creek Road, Malibu. (310) 456-9961.
March 1, 7:30 p.m. Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 660-1175.
Friday the 2nd
A Shabbat service with vocal resonance awaits at the Wilshire Theatre, this evening. The 50-voice Tabernacle Gospel Choir led by Justin White joins the Tova Marcos Singers of Temple of the Arts in an interfaith, intercultural “Shared Heritage of Freedom” service. They will be led by Rabbi David Baron and Bishop Charles Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.
8 p.m. Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 658-9100. Persian Jews break with tradition to break through in Hollywood
Students Draw on Movie for Tolerance Mural Inspiration
In a hallway of Oscar de la Hoya Animo Charter High School in downtown Los Angeles, a three-part canvas mural covers a wall, portraying the transformation of society from one plagued by hate to one free of it.
The mural’s creators are at-risk Latino high school students who spent their Saturdays envisioning a better world, and then painting it.
The students participated in a mural workshop based on a simple principle: Art can change the world.
The engineer of the workshop is Kids for Peace, a children’s art program initially begun to help combat terrorism in Israel by providing artistic and creative guidance to youngsters.
Gayle Gale started Kids for Peace after she returned to Los Angeles from a series of trips to Israel as a visiting artist at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheba in 1994 and 1995. With assistance from the local Israeli consulate and a grant obtained with help from the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity from the Jewish Community Foundation, she set out to teach youth about Israel through artistic means. In the years since, Gale has found herself doing much more.
Gale has traveled around the world conducting Kids for Peace workshops, working with groups to create artworks for all variety of venues, including the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where kids made a mural to commemorate the celebration of the 50th anniversary of human rights in 1998. In 2001, Gale received the Fete d’Excellence gold medallion for Youth from the coalition of nongovernmental organizations that are a part of the United Nations.
After Sept. 11, 2001, Gale expanded the Kids for Peace focus beyond terrorism and Israel to include issues of hunger, gang violence and AIDS, depending on the location of the workshop and the most relevant issue in the part of the world she was attempting to reach. In the process, Gale sought to avoid making Kids for Peace a politically charged initiative.
“I don’t consider this a political project,” she said. “I consider it a way of bringing people together using the creative process for harmony and to make social statements that educate people because I believe that we’ll have peace when there’s education.”
Run in conjunction with Barnsdall Arts, which has worked with Kids for Peace since 2003, the Oscar de la Hoya workshop allowed 20 students to create a series of murals to adorn their campus in the Los Angeles World Trade Center.
After viewing a documentary called “The Devil’s Miner,” about a young Bolivian boy forced to work in a mine to support his family, the students agreed upon the images they sought to portray after performing yoga and participating in a discussion of social justice led by Gale, who routinely uses such methods to get students thinking and feeling. Then they get painting.
The particular focus of the workshop was the importance of education to the achievement of peace.
When Gale discovered the “The Devil’s Miner” at a special screening at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood in April, she realized it was a tool she could use to further emphasize the relationship between education and peace in her workshops. Its protagonist dreams above all of saving enough money to one day attend school.
“I thought that if kids in America could see this film, they would appreciate what they have, and they would take their educations more seriously,” Gale said. The students at Oscar de la Hoya Animo devoted three Saturdays in May and June to working on the murals.
Gale and her patrons are hoping that it will be the first of many “Devil’s Miner” workshops she will conduct.
“My goal is just to travel around the world and keep doing workshops,” Gale said.
A Small Man With Big Dreams
Thirty-seven year old Ami Ankilewitz weighs just 39 pounds; he suffers from a rare disease called spinal muscular atrophy, which has prevented his muscles from growing and functioning. As a result, his body is skeletal; his small, fragile bones seem mangled and twisted, thinly covered by skin pulled tight. His eyes stare out dark and black from a gaunt, bony face, which appears too large and too animated for Ami’s debilitated body.
But what is clear in “39 Pounds of Love,” the wonderful Israeli documentary film about Ami that is winning awards in festivals all over the world, is that while his body is crippled, his soul is not. Ami is a party boy who frequents Tel Aviv bars. His humor is sarcastic and bawdy. Although he is dependent on others for the most basic tasks, including washing and eating, he has many friends. He is also, as much as possible, self-sufficient. He works as an animator, using the one finger on his left hand not affected by his disease to shift a computer mouse to create incredible animated images that move in ways he cannot.
Ami is a dreamer and a romantic. The film tells the story of his unrequited love for Christina, the beautiful, vibrant, Romanian nurse who tends to him with the sincerity of a lover, but whose heart stays elsewhere. Not only does Christina brush his teeth, carry him from the bath and take him for walks in the park — where people stare and run away — at parties she inhales smoke from Hookahs, and, using her lips, transfers it to Ami’s mouth.
Christina does not love Ami, so, his heart torn asunder, he asks her to leave. He decides to do what he has always wanted to do — travel to the United States, take a cross-country road trip, ride a Harley-Davidson and confront the doctor who told his mother when he was an infant that he would live only until the age of 6.
“[The doctor] just didn’t take into account that I have the soul of a Harley-Davidson,” Ami says in the film.
“39 Pounds of Love” is about Ami’s journey, literal and spiritual.
“The cross country for me is like for you climbing Mt. Everest,” Ami says. He and his band of attendants, including his best friend and caretaker Asaf; Dani Menkin, the film’s director; producer Daniel Chalfen; various other sound and camera guys; and, at certain points, Ami’s Mexican-born mother and his brother, make their way across the States in an RV, forming a fraternity of sorts. They stop in the Arizona desert, where they commune with Native Americans and cowboys. In New Mexico they enter a healing church, where Ami lies down on the pews and is blessed by the pastor. In Texas, they go into a sex shop, where the assistant asks Ami if he is into “bondage.” In California, Ami is blessed by a biker, who lays his hands over Ami’s face, right before Ami gets the ride of his life in the sidecar of a motorcycle.
In the course of his journey, Ami comes to terms with his past and confronts people who, in various ways, have wounded him. In Texas, he visits his estranged brother Oscar, now married with children. Growing up, and even as an adult, Oscar resented the attention Ami received from their mother, and on Oscar’s last trip to Israel, the brothers fought and from then on did not speak. They make up on camera. In Florida, in a somewhat anti-climactic encounter, Ami finally meets Dr. Cordova, now an old man in a Miami apartment, who seems bemused but patient with the person he gave a death sentence to so many years ago.
Throughout, Ami continues to yearn for Christina. And, punctuating the real-life drama, we see Ami’s animation work, a passionate story of two birds. One is blue and skinny like Ami, the other plump and lush with full red lips, like Christina. The birds flirt, and the blue bird, clearly besotted, brings the other gifts of worms. She rejects him nonetheless, and he flies away, dejected, then sets out to climb a mountain so he can reach the sky and steal the moon for his beloved.
“39 Pounds of Love” is a film about dreams. It is a film about the curious manner in which things we long for fulfill themselves in ways we never anticipated. It is also a film about hope, which soars eternal, even after what we hope for ebbs away from us.
For the filmmakers, Ami’s story is almost as remarkable as the story of the film itself.
Menkin met Ami in a Tel Aviv bar and was immediately drawn to him. He started filming Ami, and then, while participating in the 2002 filmmakers’ master class program of the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, showed a three-minute promotional video of Ami to the instructors. Receiving enough encouragement and support from executive producer Lynn Roth, then teaching the master class, Menkin and Ami came to the States and started making their film.
In the process, Menkin invested more than $100,000 of his own money to make the film. He also convinced much of his crew to work for free.
“There are films with budgets of $60 million,” said Menkin, who spoke to The Journal by phone from New York. “But we have $60 million of heart.”
And the efforts paid off. Not only did Ami get to go on his journey of a lifetime, but the film won the 2005 Israeli Academy Award for best documentary and is now on the Oscar short list for films eligible for a best documentary nomination. It was also picked up by HBO/Cinemax, which is supporting its U.S. release.
“When we started making this film, everyone thought we were stupid or crazy,” Menkin said. “But now we are on the short list and everyone wants to interview us.”
The film has brought Ami a degree of fame. Ever since it won the Israeli Academy Award, Ami has been receiving e-mails from people interested in his story, and he has been in demand as a lecturer, even giving a presentation to the Israel Defense Forces.
“He is inspiring people — he is talking about his feelings and how to overcome obstacles,” Menkin said.
He has also found a new love — his caretaker, Vika.
“Ami set goals, and his next goal was being in love again, and she is the one who replaced Christina,” Menkin said. “And this time they are together, so there is a happy ending.”
Dani Menkin and Asaf (Ami’s best friend) will be participating in a question-and-answer session after the evening screenings of “39 Pounds of Love” on Dec. 2 (opening night), 3 and 4 at the Nuart Theater, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd. The evening screenings take place at 7:30 p.m. and 9:40 pm. For more information, call (310) 281-8223 or visit