Three elder people have spent the past six years greeting homecoming and outbound troops heading to and from the danger zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. During that time, they have been on call 24/7 to meet the flights in and out of Bangor, Maine, International Airport and have greeted nearly one million troopers. Documentary filmmaker Aron Gaudet tells the stories of Joan Gaudet, William Knight, and Gerald Mundy and the men and women they greet in “The Way We Get By."
This old-fashioned human-interest piece deals with mortality, but with a unique twist. Joan, Bill and Gerry are nearing the ends of their lives and banded together to do the one thing they still can to make a difference: greet the soldiers, sailors and marines who, in their own way, are facing their own mortality. What makes this a provocative work is the way writer, director, cinematographer and editor Gaudet (presumably related to Joan?) makes it a treatise on aging, patriotism and free thinking as well as on the Bush foreign policy that put so many young people in harm’s way.
Many of the homecoming GIs are interviewed and they show their appreciation for the efforts of their elderly greeters and their patriotism, kindness and dedication. These oldsters may not support their government’s policies but they certainly support the troops committed to it.
Gaudet adds another dimension to his film by delving into the personal lives of his three subjects, how they live, their pets and peeves. Bill, for one, lives in squalor with a house full of cats and their detritus, including what must be every empty can of cat food he opened for his feline colony completely littering every surface. Joan’s story is told through her eyes as she watches her granddaughter prepare to be one of the outbound troops. Gerry is sidelined with a racing heart and laments missing the coming home soldiers.
These old timers keep count of every member of the military in transit through Bangor International, including its K-9 troopers. They give of themselves, sharing their Thanksgiving dinner with those who will not make it home in time. This is a nice documentary about nice people who are doing a nice thing. I give it a B+.
Maine's Bangor International Airport is the first available to flights coming from Europe. Because of that it is used frequently for planes encountering bomb threats and mechanical problems and is also an emergency landing site for the space shuttle. It is also the airport where over a million troops have left for and returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and where three senior citizens, in a mutually beneficial act, go out at all hours to send them off or welcome them home. 87 year-old WWII vet William Knight, 75 year-old grandmother Joan Gaudet and 74 year-old Gerald Mundy might say it is "The Way We Get By."
Writer/editor/cinematographer/director Aron Gaudet, son of troop greeter Joan, has made a lovely, melancholy work as his first feature. Working with producer/interviewer Gita Pullapilly, Gaudet paints a portrait of three people trying to find meaning in the waning years of their lives by connecting with young troops heading into dangerous territory. Those coming back seem to expect routine military processing and so are surprised and touched to be welcomed back with such warmth and appreciation. Joan, in fact, cannot bear to send off the troops, only welcome them back, until one day she is faced with the departure of her granddaughter Amy, a thirty-year old Blackhawk helicopter pilot who is the foremost face of the troops here.
William Knight stresses his relationship to the troops as a veteran of WWII's North African front, but at home his pride is going downhill. Since the death of his wife, Bill has been unable to take care of himself, his old farmhouse overrun with garbage and the too many cats and one dog that he cares for. Then he finds out he has cancer. Will is terribly lonely. Gerry, on the other hand, drives around with his best friend Mr. Flannigan, his faithful black lab, watching for approaching troop planes. Gerry's got a great sense of humor (handing out cell phones he shouts 'Call someone and make 'em happy, horny or ugly.'), but eventually he must deal with the loss of a loved one. Joan also has a dog, but she is the matriarch of an extended family. Joan used to be afraid of leaving her house after several knee operations left her dependent on a walker. Now it's her family who worries as she leaves her house at all hours in all kinds of weather to volunteer at the airport.
In addition to stunning subject matter, in which rural Maine and national politics supply the background, "The Way We Get By" has been beautifully shot. I can't recall when I last noticed such a lovely and distinct color palette used in a documentary. It is a beautiful, contemplative and very human story, a poetic reflection on man facing his mortality.
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10 | Video
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