CALUMET CITY | Unfortunately, esteemed movie critic Roger Ebert was not available for the public screening of Walter Banasiak's debut documentary.
Instead, Banasiak was anxious about a pending review from another cancer patient.
"For him, like most everyone else here, this is the first time he'll see it," Banasiak said of Barry Piotrowski, the subject of "Life on the Ropes: The Barry Ryte Story."
"I can't wait to see how it turned out," said Piotrowski, a professional wrestler who normally goes by the ring name "Barry Ryte."
"Believe me, if I don't like it, (Banasiak) will be the first one to know," Piotrowski said during the film's introduction. "I'll likely be the one throwing popcorn at the screen."
The screening took place April 6 at T.F. North High School, where Piotrowski and Banasiak both graduated in 2007. The long-time friends actively pursued their passions after high school. For Piotrowski, it was to become a professional wrestler. For Banasiak, it was to become a filmmaker.
Both managed to make headway in chasing their dreams. Piotrowski cracked Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Top 500 wrestlers in the world list, and was selected to take part in the Super 8 Tournament, which showcases the top independent wrestlers in the country.
Banasiak, a film major at Governor's State University, went on form Code 10 Studios with collaborator Harry Locke IV, and has produced eight films thus far.
For Piotrowski, his storyline took unexpected twist. Just before he was to participate in the Super 8 Tournament during the summer of 2010, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Banasiak was granted access to document Piotrowski and his family's odyssey from immediately after the diagnosis through the recovery and comeback. In the film, Piotrowski, his parents and his girlfriend offer detailed narrative about the physical and emotional process, as well as shedding light on the devastating financial toll a substantial illness can inflict when pre-existing conditions prevent continued insurance coverage coupled with falling short of qualifying for aide.
The documentary ends in ironic triumph with Piotrowski, now wrestling under the name "Dan Barone", getting spine-busted and back-pack slammed in an ill-fated handicap match against WWE superstar "Ryback" during a "RAW" show last summer.
Believe it or not, Piotrowski is hoping for a rematch.
"I'm looking forward for another (WWE) tryout ... I worked on a lot of things they told me to work on," said Piotrowski, who was due to perform at a GALLI Wrestling show the following weekend in Villa Park.
After the closing credits, which noted encouraging signs that Piotrowski is cancer free, the documentary received a standing ovation from a decent-sized audience as well as a "thumbs up" from Piotrowski himself.
It took Banasiak about 18 months to produce the documentary. His other seven films are narrative fiction features
"I'm not working on anything right now since we've been doing a lot of running around getting this ready," Banasiak said. "From here, we're going to focus on getting this commercially released."
Banasiak is a big fan of Chris Nolan, director of the "Dark Knight" Batman movies as well as "Memento" and "Inception", and of John Avildsen.
"'Rocky' is one of my favorite movies," Banasiak said of the Academy Award-winning film directed by Avildsen.
Can't go wrong with an underdog, against-all-odds script, especially when it's non-fiction.