ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a disease that progressively degenerates nerves and withers muscles, steals away the ability to eat, speak and breathe.
For Corona del Mar resident Augie Nieto, ALS has seemingly strengthened his spirit — and as his wife, Lynne, says in a new documentary, "Augie," the fatal ailment has made him a better man.
The revealing documentary about the champion in the ALS community who has lived with the disease for 11 years premieres at the Newport Beach Film Festival at Island Cinema Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
Nieto and his wife will attend an April 27 screening at 3 p.m. also at Island Cinema, where director James Keach will take part in a question-and-answer session after the film.
Keach produced "Walk the Line," the movie about Johnny Cash, and two years ago directed "I'll Be Me," the documentary about Glen Campbell and his battle with Alzheimer's disease.
"The first thing I gathered after meeting Augie is that he is one of the luckiest guys on the planet to have a wife like Lynne," Keach said, by phone. "Also, he took his business acumen and toughness and transformed it into humility and making a true difference in the world."
For the past year-and-a-half, Keach worked on "Augie" and discovered that the 59-year-old, who co-founded equipment company Life Fitness, "is a tough son of a gun."
"He's an inspiration to all of us to value every minute, to never give up," said Keach. "Augie also has a great sense of humor. When you are around him there's nothing depressing about [the disease]."
Lynne described the past year of work on the film as "an interesting experience," as their home turned into a movie set.
She said Augie was just fine with it, as he doesn't mind the attention, but she is naturally shy.
Lynne had hesitated to have a documentary made about her husband but is now happy that it is complete.
She gracefully accepts compliments such as the one as Keach gave, yet she said the documentary provides an honest view of her marriage of nearly 22 years.
"That was part of the deal with Augie," Lynne said during a phone interview. "I told him, 'We're not going to sugarcoat it.' I think the film does a good job of showing the struggles that we did have, and happily don't anymore!"
The disease changed Nieto, his wife said.
He was angry after the diagnosis, and angry with the people around him, but then he wanted to live and be a better person, Lynne said.
His ability to stay ahead of the disease with treatment and his desire to make a difference has given him survival beyond most who are afflicted with ALS, which has an average life expectancy of five years.