g The Film Panel Notetaker: Silverdocs - "The Way We Get By" - June 19, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Silverdocs - "The Way We Get By" - June 19, 2009

The Way We Get By
Silverdocs 2009
June 19, 2009

Photo by Brian Geldin.

Aaron Gaudet’s The Way We Get By, which has been making its rounds on the festival circuit since it premiered at SXSW in March, made its way to Silverdocs in Silver Spring, Maryland, where The Film Panel Notetaker returned for the third year in a row. (Check back later in the week for more coverage from Silverdocs.)

The Way We Get By is a charming and poignant story of three seniors who make the most of their day at the Bangor, Maine, airport greeting men and women from the armed forces who are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Gaudet’s mother Joan is one of the three greeters. She rarely leaves the house unless it’s to greet the soldiers, even if it’s the middle of the night. Next we have Bill, a veteran and widower who’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer and lives in squalor in a farm house with lots of cats and his dog. Finally, we have Jerry, who views himself as an Independent politically, and lost his son at the age of 10. Ultimately, their stories are sad, but in the end, they are a complete and utter inspiration. Gaudet has crafted a beautiful elegy to the devotion given by these humble everyday American citizens giving something back to their country. It was a treat to see Joan, Bill and Jerry at the Q&A, along with Gaudet and producer Gita Pullapilly. Below are highlights from their Q&A.

Q: How did you decide to make this film and what inspired you?

Gaudet: Gita and I were working in television news in Grand Rapids, MI, in 2004. We met and started dating in October of 2004. For Christmas that year, I was just bringing her home to meet my mom. I had known that my mom had started troop greeting and it really changed her life. She was so active and into what she was doing. The first thing we wanted to do was go down and see what she was doing with all of her time day and night. She got a call that there was a flight coming in at two in the morning and we went down with her. We met Bill that night and fell in love with Bill and knew that we wanted to spend more time with him. Then we met Jerry and he made us laugh. We kind of went from there.

Q: For the three of you in the film, how did you like having Aaron and Gita around making the film?

Gaudet: Jerry liked having Gita around. He was trying to get rid of me the whole time.

Bill: It was pretty surprising. One day, Aaron comes up to me and says 'I want to make a documentary with you.' I said, 'Go right ahead.'...He put a microphone on my collar and I had to be careful everything I said.

Q: What was it like for you to see yourself and all that raw emotion on film?

Jerry: It was overwhelming to say the least. I'm just so pleased that I could be part of it. I had no idea when they asked to film me that it would go this far and turn out like it did...(tearful) I never had this experience. It almost makes a wimp out of me.

Joan: I still cry every time. It feels strange. I'm very proud of (Aaron).

Bill: I was kind of amazed with most of it. Every time I watch it, I see something different.

Q: How did you all get started being greeters?

Bill: Primarily, there were about 19 of us in the Bangor area, retired military.When the troops came home from Iraq, they weren't allowed to wear the uniform when they went out on the streets...That hurt us very deeply. We decided to do something. The thing was to do something that wouldn't object to our government, so we decided we would greet the troops coming and going...I think I'm one of the last of the Mohicans as they used to call them. I think all the rest of them have gone to meet their maker. I'm hanging on here enjoying the visitations of various groups and people who are interested in what we're doing.

Gaudet: They originally started it during the Gulf War and then started it back up again this time. The first time, it was much shorter. It was just troops coming home, so now this time it's been a much bigger commitment that continues.

Q: From afar, is there anything we can support what you do?

Gaudet: They do take donations (at www.themainetroopgreeters.com).

Q: Has your local community of greeters, vets or non-vets, expanded?

Bill: We have more non-vets than we do veterans as a whole...As long as you want to do it, we're willing to take you.

Gaudet: It's not easy keeping up with them. As we were making the movie, every plane seemed to come in in the middle of the night. We were praying for something to come in at noon and it would come in at 4:00 a.m. instead. I don't know how they've done it for six years and still keep going.

Joan: We need help at night.

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