Steve Gleason’s campaign to raise awareness about the neuromuscular disease ALS — and to defy his own diagnosis with it — has taken him from concert stages to the halls of Congress. His latest stop is the big screen.
Tuesday night, the Orpheum Theater hosted the New Orleans premiere of “Gleason,” a documentary film that chronicles the fortitude and fight of the former Saints defensive back in the face of the devastating disease.
The film is scheduled to open July 29 in a limited release that includes the New Orleans market.
The release comes in advance of the 10th anniversary of the play that secured Gleason’s spot in Saints lore.
On Sept. 25, 2006, in the first game to be played in the Superdome since Hurricane Katrina, Gleason blocked an Atlanta Falcons punt that was recovered for a Saints touchdown in what was already an emotionally charged game.
That play, one of the most memorable in Saints history, is now memorialized in a statue outside the Dome.
Gleason spent a total of seven seasons with the Saints; he retired from the NFL in 2008.
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He has now lost all motor function, including the ability to speak. He communicates via eye-tracking technology, moving his eyes to select letters and words on a screen, which are translated into his own voice.
Using that technology, he introduced his friends in the band Pearl Jam from the stage of the 2013 Voodoo Experience in City Park and at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The courage Gleason has shown in the face of his disease, which has inspired countless fans and admirers, is at the core of the documentary.
The film originated as a series of video journals Gleason created for his then-unborn son, Rivers, who is now 4. Additional footage, shot over a four-year-period, lays bare the difficult reality faced by Gleason, his wife, Michel Varisco Gleason, and their family and friends.
The documentary, directed by Clay Tweel, earned favorable notices at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January.