ReelBob: 2017 Heartland Film Festival: ‘Augie’ ★★★
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By Bob Bloom
Sometimes when viewing a documentary about someone battling a disease — especially when it is your responsibility to review it — you start asking yourself some uncomfortable questions.
Are you being too easy on the movie because you feel sorry or empathy for its subject? Or, do you feel cynical or offended because it seems the person in the spotlight is being exploited?
And do the filmmakers show an agenda of their own, using the focus of the movie as an advertisement or fund-raiser for a certain cause?
Honestly, the answer to all these questions is yes!
However, that does not diminish the movie or make it less relevant.
Thus it is with “Augie,” a documentary by veteran producer-director-actor James Keach that looks at former fitness entrepreneur Augie Nieto, a pioneer in the industry with his Lifecycle.
In 2005, Nieto was diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The life expectancy of someone diagnosed with ALS is two-to-three years.
Eleven years later, Nieto is still around, raising money to help find a cure for the disease.
“Augie” simply is not your standard inspirational documentary about one man’s fight against a dread disease. It’s also a love story that celebrates the connection between Augie and his wife, Lynn, who has stayed by his side and, at times, been his voice.
Smartly, Keach does not gloss over Augie Nieto’s warts. In his business life, he was demanding, arrogant, tough and mean, according to many of his friends and business associates who are interviewed in the movie.
His children describe him as a workaholic who was not around much when they were growing up. His obsession with work cost him his first marriage.
After his diagnosis, Augie attempted suicide.
He then began Augie’s Quest, a foundation that undertook seeking a cure for ALS.
Augie later hooked up with Jamie Heywood, the founder of ALS Therapy Development Institute, and began traveling the country holding fund-raisers, so ALSTDI could get capital to achieve the goal of eradicating ALS.
The movie shows that, as Augie’s body continued to break down, his mind remains active. Using technology, he is able to “speak” and communicate.
“Augie,” at times, sounds like a PSA for his various causes, but those moments are usually balanced with scenes showing Augie working out — he can now move his head, shoulders and feet — and interact with family and friends.
The movie also interviews other ALS patients who relate how, in their own ways, they have adjusted to life and are fighting the disease.
“Augie” is a commendable project because of its subject and because it gives people battling ALS hope.
I am a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. My reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). I also review Blu-rays and DVDs. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Links to my reviews can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
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12:45 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, Castleton Square
10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, Traders Point
7:45 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 17, Traders Point