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Tony Roma with director/producer Chris Hanna. Courtesy Facebook

It’s been a little over three years since Tony Romo was dragged down from behind in a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, fracturing his spine and effectively ending his playing career. With successive seasons plagued by serious injury, it seemed his body began to betray him just as his positional skill and mental command of the game were at their peak. At times both lovingly revered and viciously maligned, Romo left a legacy marked by alternating moments of breathtaking glory and heartbreaking despair.

At the opening of the Lone Star Film Festival next week, a documentary will premiere that chronicles the highs and the lows of Romo’s improbable life in sports. With Now or Never: A Tony Romo Story, director Chris Hanna (in his first feature film) attempts to give insight into a man often seen by fans and the media as aloof and nonchalant.

“I’ve always loved sports, even though I was never an athlete,” Hanna said in a phone interview. “I always knew at some point in my career, I would make a film about sports. Little did I know that it would be this early in my career,” he added with a laugh. Hanna is just 27 years old.

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An El Paso native and lifelong Cowboys fan, Hanna began work on Now or Never three years ago while he was still a senior studying film at Santa Fe University of Art and Design. At the time, the Cowboys, led by rookie phenom Dak Prescott, had just lost in the playoffs to the Green Bay Packers, and a cloud still hovered over Romo’s future. After reading a profile of the quarterback’s uneven career that appeared in Texas Monthly, in which the main focus was his supposed inability to win big and important games — a trope that plagued the signal-caller throughout his playing career — Hanna was inspired to paint a very different picture of the athlete, one that instead focused on his rare ability to overcome limitations, personal and professional, to achieve heights no one believed he could attain.

Romo, Hanna said, is “still one of my main inspirations. I just thought this was a great story. He was not drafted. He had [all these] injuries. His body didn’t help him achieve what he wanted. And in spite of that, he still played 13 seasons in the league with one team, 10 as a starter, and broke [so many] records.”

Through interviews with former teammates, friends, and family from his hometown of Burlington, Wisconsin, and with Romo himself, Hanna traces Romo’s journey from gawky high-school basketball player to Cowboys franchise record holder. The film emerges as a tender portrait of a humble and motivational man often erroneously viewed as cocky and uncaring. Personal anecdotes and footage of Romo’s charity kids’ football camp held annually in Burlington give a novel insight into Romo’s psychological makeup, which was largely unavailable during his playing days.

Mirroring many of the themes of the film, Hanna had to use his own inherent courage and conviction to tackle the story. That an unproven undergrad managed to be given the opportunity to tell this story, and with such close access, is no small feat. Having done exhaustive research, Hanna initially reached out to people close to Romo in Burlington. Through those interviews, he proved that although he was young and fairly inexperienced, he was professional and capable. Both his skill and his passion for the project garnered him an invite to Romo’s QB camp and ultimately a few hours with Romo on camera.

“It was a three-year journey of getting to earn their trust,” Hanna said of the daunting task of capturing the life of a personal hero. “Once we showed them what the film was going to be, they loved it, so they gave us a shot.”

Now or Never screens at 6pm on Wednesday, November 13, at the Lone Star Film Festival. The movie will continue to make its way around the film festival circuit while negotiations continue over a potential limited theatrical release and eventual digital distribution. 

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