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Jan 26

Steve Gleason at Sundance

ALS Headlines


You likely already know the Steve Gleason story -- the unforgettable on-field heroics during his time with the New Orleans Saints, the tragic ALS diagnosis, the consistent and unfailingly inspirational display of grit, love and courage on the part of the former NFL star. Now, the rest of the world is learning it as well.

"Gleason," a documentary charting the highs and lows of Gleason's life since his diagnosis, premiered in competition Saturday (Jan. 23) at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Unsurprisingly to anyone familiar with the Gleason story, it drew immediate and near universal praise from those who saw it.

"Prepare to be wrecked," wrote Brooks Barnes of The New York Times for a story highlighting "10 Sundance Movies With Heat."

Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King, one of 550 people to see the film at its sold-out Park City premiere, was similarly moved. " 'Gleason' is one raw, wild ride," King wrote in his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column this morning (Jan. 25). "I am an old softie, but I counted six times I either teared up or flat-out cried in the 111 minutes of the documentary about the life of Steve Gleason, the former Saint and current face of ALS."

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a former teammate of Gleason's was also in that number in Park City. "This film will change lives," Brees wrote via Instagram, including a photo of the standing ovation received by the film upon the conclusion of the sold-out showing.

The film started as a video diary Gleason decided to record and leave behind for his young son, Rivers, upon being diagnosed in 2011 with ALS. The resulting 1,300 hours worth of footage was funny, it was poignant, and it was inspiring -- in other words, it was Steve Gleason, through and through.

But it wasn't exactly a movie yet.

Enter filmmakers Clay Tweel and Seth Gordon, whose quirky but insightful documentary "Finders Keepers" was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival. After viewing a short trailer for an early version of the film assembled by David Lee and Ty Minton-Small -- two young filmmakers who embedded themselves with Gleason and wife Michel early in the project (and both of whom are credited as cinematographers on "Gleason") -- Tweel and Gordon joined Team Gleason. They would shape the footage into the film that screened Saturday in Park City.

"The kind of access and bravery that Steve and his wife, Michel, showed in what they allowed to be filmed, and the attitude about showing the real and raw and emotionally powerful side of dealing with an illness, balanced with his heroism and being sort of an icon and this very important person to the city of new Orleans, was just a fascinating study," Gordon said in a videotaped interview published Friday (Jan. 22) on Deadline. "And the fact that they showed and captured such amazing stuff early, early on meant we were able to show an amazing transformation."

As for when general audiences can see "Gleason" remains to be seen. The film is shopping around for a distributor, but the consensus seems to be that it won't have much trouble landing one, especially after the general acclaim it has received so far.

"Of course, 'Gleason' will never become a blockbuster as far as mainstream movies go," Doug Fox of The Herald in Provo, Utah, wrote upon seeing the film. "But in the realm of gripping and emotional documentaries, this one is as good as it gets."

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