Gleason Directed by Clay Tweel

Gleason Directed by Clay Tweel
Courtesy of Hot Docs
9
Following Hurricane Katrina and concerns that the New Orleans Saints might never be able to play another football game inside the Superdome again, Steve Gleason blocked a punt that came to symbolize the community's recovery and resiliency. Then, shortly after retiring a year later, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS.
 
Gleason is an emotionally charged, warts-and-all account of how the former football player remains committed to fighting for his life in spite of his physical deterioration. Tracing Gleason's path from undersized but tenacious athlete to paralyzed and mute, director Clay Tweel shapes the documentary by culling hundreds of hours of footage that Gleason recorded for the son who was conceived just weeks after his diagnosis. This allows for unique insights into the complicated relationship Gleason has with his own father and provides candid access into his marriage with wife Michel, showing the never-ending difficulties of caring for a loved one afflicted with a terminal illness. 
 
Steve's father, Mike, raised his son with tough love, and turns to his faith when faced with the reality of watching Steve's condition worsen. In one dramatic scene, he drags Steve along to a faith healer who predictably has little success in making Steve's legs work the same way again. Though Mike somehow has the uncanny ability to push all of the right buttons to rankle Steve, there's still a lot of love to be found beneath the scars of all of the old wounds.
 
While Michel had become accustomed to a life of going on outdoor adventures with Steve, she adjusts to the role of caretaker about as well as can be expected, especially considering she's soon raising a child at the same time. As Steve slowly loses the ability to speak, their union built on open and honest communication is forced to endure awkward conversations through synthesized speech. Throughout, though, there's no doubting their deep connection, as we watch them share a laugh when Michel is forced to deal with the dirty task of helping Steve remove a blockage in his bowels.
 
What's truly inspiring though is how Steve perseveres in the face of his declining quality of life, opening a foundation called Team Gleason to fund technology and once-in-a-lifetime experiences for others suffering from the disease. There are always going to be bad days and flashes of despair along the way, but he remains determined to make the most of the time he has left. And how many other people can say they've made Eddie Vedder cry while interviewing him? (Amazon/Dear Rivers)