Western alum Ty Minton-Small to present award-winning documentary 'Gleason'

Western Washington University alumnus Ty Minton-Small, a cinematographer for the critically acclaimed documentary “Gleason,” will discuss the film at a public screening at Western Friday, Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. 

Following the screening, KING5 News anchor and Western alumna Joyce Taylor will interview Minton-Small about the making of “Gleason,” an emotionally powerful film about five years in the life of Steve Gleason, a former New Orleans Saints defensive back who became a father soon after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS.

The WWU Alumni Association is hosting the event as part of its “Ignite Your Intellect Series.”

At age 34, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, a fatal neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, ultimately leading to total paralysis. The documentary follows the everyday challenges and triumphs of Steve Gleason and his wife, Michel Varisco – as well as Gleason’s advice to his little boy on how to live a great life.  

Before the film, Gleason was perhaps best known for his electrifying block of a punt during the Saints’ first game in the Superdome following Hurricane Katrina. The block, now immortalized in a statue at the Superdome, galvanized the team and inspired a city still reeling from the devastating storm. (The opposing kicker, Atlanta Falcons punter Michael Koenen, is a Ferndale native and a Western alumnus.)

The film, which screened at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, is very well-regarded by critics: “Gleason” is on a list of 15 that could be nominated Jan. 24 for a 2017 Academy Award, and the National Board of Review called the full-length documentary one of the year’s five best.

Filming “Gleason,” which started out as a family video diary, was “a giant experience in my life,” Minton-Small says. He hopes the finished product “gives people an opportunity to examine their own lives, how they’re spending their time, and their own relationships – particularly father-son relationships,” he says. “I hope people come away from the film valuing those things as much as they should.”

Minton-Small was living in Mount Vernon after graduating with a degree in English literature in 2011 when he responded to a Craigslist ad seeking a cinematographer. He quickly became involved in “Gleason” both professionally and personally, and moved to New Orleans to start filming; his first day of shooting was to record the birth of Varisco and Gleason’s son, Rivers. In time, Minton-Small became much more than a cinematographer, but a friend, caregiver and part of the couple’s support network. “They’re more than friends,” Minton-Small says. “They’re family.”

Tickets to the screening are $5, with proceeds supporting student scholarships; any donations above the $5 ticket price are tax-deductible. Click here to register for the event and learn more.