Chris Rose: Steve Gleason, filmmaker

File./AP Photo/Mike Stewart
File./AP Photo/Mike Stewart

Despite hundreds of movies playing at the New Orleans Film Festival two weeks ago – and the many Oscar contenders rolling out at local multiplexes – the movie I heard most folks talk about during that time had no affiliation with either the festival nor Hollywood.

Instead, it was a decidedly amateur offering that played to a small crowd of mostly family and friends in a local barroom.

The movie is called Team Gleason Experiment: Montana Canoe Trip.

It commands our attention not only because of who made and appears in the film – Steve Gleason – but because of how it has been presented: As the first in a series of 12 films planned by Gleason and his impossibly merry band of filmmakers.

Such is the wild-eyed but direly sincere ambition of a man whom the medical community insists should be busy dying, not creating a legacy of film and boxed sets of DVD's.

Gleason has made his personal battle with the terminal diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis into a public cause.

In doing so – in documenting his life and times, his extreme adventures and extremely tedious routines, his inspirational triumphs and heartbreaking setbacks – he is creating a handbook for survival, success and spiritual enrichment that stretches far beyond the narrow confines of movie screen.

Earlier this month, Gleason took a test drive on the new racetrack over in Avondale. His was treated as a news story by local media; we can't get enough, it seems, of what Steve Gleason is doing.

It's been quite a ride for a guy who was, for most of his NFL career, a nameless, faceless, niche special teams player.

Until he blocked that kick.

I have never heard of – and certainly never witnessed – a phenomenon such as this, where one guy of no particular political, religious or corporate affiliation, no notable financial, academic or hereditary status – winds of serving as the moral center of a community.

But when Steve Gleason speaks, we listen.

He is no messiah, no saint – other than the football kind – but an inelegantly articulate presence among us willing and able to carry and dispense a wisdom, serenity and strength we all aspire to possess.

Everyone around here quotes Gleason – no white flags, no surrender – or cites him as an influence or inspiration in their own personal challenges and struggles.

If he can get up every morning and live and love and make a difference, we think: shouldn't we be able to at least try?

His is a story for the ages. A story for all ages.

The ultimate story not of how to die, but how to live.