Courage on display down life's slopes

Three new documentaries reveal athletic, musical, and personal fortitude.

Three new documentaries, in varying ways, are about courage. Of course, one man's courage is another's foolhardiness, which brings me to First Descent, which is about snowboarders. Not just any snowboarders - not those annoying kids who cut into the ski lift line and do curlicues around you on the slopes. The hardy fools - I mean, visionary pioneers - in this movie are so gravity-defying that I had to look at the press notes afterward just to make sure no computerized special effects were used.

Directors Kevin Harrison and Kemp Curley picked five famous boarders, including 18-year-old Winter X Games champ Shaun White and Oslo's Terje Haakonsen (the Michael Jordan of snowboarding), and set them on the powdery peaks of Valdez, Alaska. Their runs down the mountains, which at times include drops of a hundred feet into thin air, were for the most part filmed with helicopter cameras - a danger in itself. Avalanches? No problem. The film is a freeze-packed "Endless Summer." Call it "Endless Winter." Grade: B.
(Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference.)

The hero of Isn't This A Time? is Harold Leventhal, the promoter, manager, and producer who first brought folk musicians into America's major concert halls in the '50s. (He died in October.) Directed by Jim Brown, who years ago made The Weavers documentary "Wasn't That A Time?," it is largely a performance piece shot in Carnegie Hall in the fall of 2003 at a sold-out concert honoring Leventhal. Participating, on stage and off, are the surviving members of The Weavers, whom Leventhal championed during the McCarthy blacklist era, as well as, among others, Peter, Paul, and Mary; Arlo Guthrie; and Theodore Bikel. It's a jamboree of good music and good feelings. Grade: B+

Ami Ankilewitz, the subject of Dani Menkin's 39 Pounds of Love, was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy that allows him to move only a single finger in his left hand. But with that finger Ami, who lives in Israel, has become a remarkable 3-D computer animator. His doctor at birth gave him six years to live, and the second half of the film is taken up with Ami's quest - he was 34 when the movie was shot - to track down the physician in Florida in order to show him how wrong he was. Pound for pound, Ami is a heavyweight. Grade: B+

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