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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Alumnus discusses working on “Gleason”

Western alumnus Ty Minton-Small never wanted to make documentaries.

But after graduating from Western in 2011, Minton-Small responded to a film company’s advertisement on Craigslist. The company needed help filming the birth of former NFL player Steve Gleason’s son in New Orleans.

For the next five years, Minton-Small helped document the Gleason family’s life as they raised a child and handled Steve Gleason’s worsening ALS, a rare neurological disease that slowly paralyzes the body. Minton-Small filmed the family and helped Steve Gleason’s wife, Michel Gleason, take care of Steve as his ALS  progressively got worse.

The resulting film, “Gleason,” was shown at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and was well received by critics.

“It’s very much a part of my life up there that people are seeing, so that’s a weird feeling.” 

Alumnus Ty Minton-Small

Minton-Small and Western alumna and King 5 news anchor, Joyce Taylor, presented a showing of the film and a discussion on Friday, Feb. 3, in the Performing Arts Center.

“People would say, ‘you and Michel are amazing, you’re heroes.’ But I think everyone would be surprised if you found yourself in similar circumstances you would rise to the occasion,” Minton-Small said.

Despite the film’s positive critical reception, the footage wasn’t originally meant for public consumption. Minton-Small said it began as a video library from Gleason to his unborn son Rivers.

The videos captured the family’s everyday life, their struggles and Steve Gleason’s messages to his now five-year-old son.

“It’s very much a piece of my life up there that people are seeing, so that’s a weird feeling.” Minton-Small said. “It is difficult to have your life, especially when it’s not an average life, crystallized into an hour-and-a-half movie. But I do know the response they’ve gotten is so energizing for them.”

As Minton-Small worked on the project, he grew as a person.

“I was 22 when it started and 27 when it ended. No matter what you’re doing you can learn a lot about yourself during that time,” Minton-Small said. “I never thought of myself as a caretaker. I learned I was a lot more patient than I thought I was.”

Despite the heavy topic, Minton-Small said he had more good times with the Gleason family than bad.

Psychology major, Kimmy Clark, said the film helped give perspective to everyday life.

“It was an uplifting and inspiring thing,” Clark said. “It really just makes you look at your own life and question what am I doing, all these things that you get down about. They just seem like they don’t matter, they’re really small and you can deal with anything.”

Western employee Jenny Sidwell attended the event with her husband Mike Sidwell.

“It was a great film,” Jenny Sidwell said. “We have a 17-month-old at home. It definitely touched home having a little one and knowing how important it is to be able to interact with them. It definitely made it very personal.”

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