This past Monday in Beverly Hills, The Knockturnal had the pleasure of attending a screening of the inspirational and powerful documentary, Gleason.
Gleason is a story about former professional player for the Saints, Steve Gleason. It follows him and his family’s journey after he is diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). It is an incredible story of struggle, strength, pain and love that any one can relate to and learn from. After the screening, the guests were pleasantly surprised with a Q&A led by Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready interviewing Steve Gleason, Michel Varisco-Gleason, and director Clay Tweel.
Why did you go with director Clay Tweel?
Steve: I think primarily it was imperative to find a director who would incorporate in one movie every single last scene of me pooping my pants … We had compiled almost 1500 hours of footage so we wanted to bring in a director we could trust with a very personal and intimate project … We wanted to find a director who could sift through all of the footage to capture the sincerity and reality of what we started. After interviewing a lot of directors it became clear that he was the best fit.
Was there anything that is missing from the film that could have been shown?
Michel: I think Steve and I both …. one of the things that was missing from this film – just because you can’t put everything is the amount of support that we have … A lot of it seems like it was me and Steve … but really we have our families, we have friends this great support system, a great group of caretakers, and almost the whole city of New Orleans really rose to the occasion and has been a tremendous support for us … That wasn’t shown enough but again you can’t show everything. We are very fortunate enough to have a tremendous amount of love and support that has made us get to where we are.
Clay: The technology that Steve uses to communicate and the way in which he is this amazing beta tester for all sorts of new tech that hasn’t even hit the market yet in some places, it’s the way in which he strives to make peoples lives better by taking that challenge on is amazing.
The video journals you create for your son are a huge part of the movie. Can you elaborate on them?
Steve: I am not sure I will ever be completely at ease with some of these intimate and raw moments, which were initially intended for Rivers, being made public. At the same time, I believe that our greatest strength as humans is to share our weakness and vulnerability with each other … People are watching this movie, reflecting on the situation, and choosing to live more passionately and courageously, so I think we made a good decision to make this film.
Clay, what made you want to tell the father-son story from the footage you edited together?
Clay: The inner generational story of father and son was a surprise as was Michel’s story line in digging through the footage and finding those. I think that the way in which Steve is working through and dealing with some issues with his dad was reflected … in the ways he was leaving these journals for Rivers … It was less of a father-son specific dynamic but I think it’s a very human thing to recognize things you want to change from your past and do better with your own children. For Michel the caretaker side of this was something I hadn’t seen a lot … her emotional journey was really deep and layered and she’s so honest and open all the time that we could actually go to those places. The scene in the bedroom is a tough one, but there are so many different layered emotions happening at the same time, I just felt like her story added another level of depth that one might not expect going in.
Was there ever a time that you wanted to stop filming?
Steve: Michel and I started this project over 6 years ago, November 11, 2010. Over these 6 years there were several times that Michel and I seriously considered pushing the object button. But we have an incredible production team and they were integral in reassuring both Michel and I that this film was going to impact and change how people live their life.
Michel, what in your life did you experience growing up that allows you to take this on?
Michel: Well, I started on my high school basketball team. *audience laughs* I have no idea. I have a really strong family unit and when this happened it was just like, we both took it on the best we knew how. And I did it until I broke around the end of this movie and realized I wasn’t a super-human I couldn’t do it anymore so I was given help. Now we have a great staff of caregivers who are here and help me. They jumped in and still help us today.
Also in attendance at WME Screening room were producers Kimi Culp, Scott Fujita, Seth Gordon and Mary Rohlich along with Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, Eric Johnson, Rob Reiner, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, Joanna Cassidy, Kief Davidson and Paola di Florio.