Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
We felt honored that you reviewed “39 Pounds of Love.” We had been looking forward to reading your thoughts on the film as we so respect your opinion. However, we were disappointed to see several incorrect facts in your review. I know it is probably ill-advised for filmmakers to respond to a critic, but whilst we of course have no problem with your opinion -- that is up to you -- we believe it is in place, and essential, to correct some of your erroneous statements as well as respond to some of your perspectives of persons with disabilities.
First and foremost, Ami's story is real, and organic, with no stage-management. Criticize our script, our direction, and our editing -- but not the essence of a film that perhaps you found too true to be true.
Some examples :
1. You write "When Ami protests his love for Christina, and she replies, and he sends her away, there is the distinct sensation that all of three events were predetermined before they happened in front of the camera". NOT TRUE, we were there with a camera and captured all these moments, including when Christina left, in real time. The sequence was revealed to the filmmakers by Ami in his time and organically. We were there documenting it.
2. You write: ""When was the first time you realized you were completely different?" he is asked, and replies, "When Christina walked out the door." Really? He realized it as late as the events in this film?"YES. As documentarians we were most fortunate to have been following Ami and documenting his life when this series of events happened and at a time that Ami was especially introspective.
3. You write that Ami is accompanied on his trip across the US by "... no doubt various crew members not seen." In actuality, all seven crew members and characters are specifically introduced in the film by name and role on captions. Furthermore, this is a novel creative decision, one we have never before seen in a documentary.
4. You ask if Asaf comes " along merely as best friend, or has he been hired again as a caretaker, to make this film possible?" - Well, Asaf did not come on this trip as Ami's caregiver, nor as a tool of the film, but as Ami's closest friend. As with many of the people who helped with the journey, he was not there for money. Family and friends are actually today the prime givers of care in many situations and it comes as no surprise to people in the disability community that Ami would have such close companions willing and happy to help him facilitate his goals. Are you implying that a disabled person could not possibly have a best friend look after him but would need to pay for - or, worse, have someone else pay for - assistance? This judgement - beyond film criticism - was particularly hurtful to Ami and to others in the disability community.
5. You later write " there is another brother, never seen." Ami's second sibling is a sister, not a brother, and she is seen briefly in the opening scene but is not a part of the story.
6. You write that after Ami passes out, he is "... rushed away in an ambulance," whereas in fact Asaf (Ami's best friend) specifically reveals that Ami refuses to be taken to a hospital and that he insists on continuing with his journey in the RV. (You actually refer to the rushing away in the ambulance -- which never happens -- twice!)
7. You ask: "Isn't it ominous that there are no homecoming scenes? Were they not filmed, or were they not happy?" They were happy but not filmed. And we respect your opinion that you felt no closure and thus unsatisfied. But, again, you asperse a judgement here assumedly on personality and family rather than critique. Was Spielberg questioned as to why we didn't see the Extra Terrestrial turn up at his home at the end of ET?
Mr. Ebert -- the fact that we are disappointed by your review has nothing to do with the critique of the filmmaking but with your reporting errors which do a disservice to us as filmmakers, to Ami as a human being, and to the audiences that have been so inspired by the picture. Criticism and bad reviews are par for the course for any filmmaker. That you feel that certain issues were not discussed is your prerogative, albeit you point them out with hostility. But that your review is replete with factual errors and your view of disability is bleak is upsetting.
Lastly, as you expressed an interest to know: Ami is now 37 years old, he is well and lives in Israel. He has a new girlfriend whom he has been with for over a year. And Ami still lives his life in a way that inspires others and he is always surrounded by supportive friends and joy.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
Dani Menkin & Daniel J. Chalfen
Producers, 39 Pounds of Love
New York, NY
Roger Ebert replies: Thank you for your courteous and helpful letter. I will correct the errors you point out, and print the letter on the website. I seem to remember Ami being placed in an ambulance but it must have been the RV. I do feel that the movie lacks closure and ends in midstream, but I appreciate your defense of it.
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