No matter your political view of the war, everyone can agree that soldiers need a good send off and warm welcome home. Senior citizens are doing just that for our troops while finding new meaning for their life. Flight after flight of war-bound and returning GIs are met by a determined band of patriotic senior citizens. Over 900,000 to date. POV’s “The Way We Get By” tells the stories of these famous “Troop Greeters” of Bangor, Maine, on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, in a special presentation on PBS.
“Unfailingly modest and profoundly humane. . . . Neither pro- nor antiwar . . . this fine, affecting film perfectly exemplifies Milton’s famous claim: ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’” – Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
National Air Date
The Way We Get By has its national broadcast premiere on the POV (Point of View) series on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009, at 9 p.m., in a special presentation on PBS. (Check local listings.) American television’s longest-running independent documentary series, POV is the recipient of a Special Emmy for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking. The series’ 22nd season concludes on Wednesday Dec. 30, with the special presentation Patti Smith: Dream of Life.
On call 24 hours a day for the past five years, a group of senior citizens has made history by greeting more than 900,000 American troops at a tiny airport in Bangor, Maine. The Way We Get By, directed by Aron Gaudet and produced by Gita Pullapilly, is an intimate look at three of these greeters as they confront the universal losses that come with aging and rediscover their reason for living. Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy and Joan Gaudet find the strength to overcome their personal battles and transform their lives through service. This inspirational and surprising story shatters the stereotypes of today’s senior citizens as the greeters redefine the meaning of community.
The Way We Get By takes a look behind the hearty smiles, handshakes, heartfelt thanks and free cookies and cell phones the greeters bring to the airport, and discovers a world in which the seniors are engaged in their own struggles with aging, disease, loneliness, memories of war and personal loss. The film reveals a remarkable symbiosis between the young soldiers’ fighting mission and the greeters’ fight to overcome infirmities and depression in making sure no soldier departs or returns without thanks. Regardless of their personal views about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the greeters, some of them veterans, turn out at all hours of the day and night to show their respect for the soldiers’ willingness to make sacrifices for the nation.
The Way We Get By screened on Capitol Hill on Sept. 30. The event, introduced by Dr. Jill Biden, was sponsored by Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Maine Representatives Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree, and presented by the USO, Operation Homefront and HandsOn Network. Filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly and the film’s three subjects, Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy and Joan Gaudet, attended. The following evening, the film played at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for military members and their families. Then on Oct. 2, the filmmakers and greeters had a chance to meet with Vice President Joe Biden during a special tour of the White House.
“This is a very personal story to me,” says director Aron Gaudet. “Calling home to talk to my 75-year-old mom used to be easy. With few friends and fewer hobbies, she was always there, and always sitting by the phone. Then, suddenly, I called and she wasn’t home. Day after day her phone rang and rang, but she didn’t ever pick up. When I finally got her on the phone and told her I’d had difficulty reaching her, she replied, ‘Well, you should try me on my cell phone.’ When had my mom gotten a cell phone? She explained that she was greeting troops at the airport, and it meant she had to be available to go there at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week, so she needed a cell.
“Witnessing firsthand how my mother’s life changed in such positive ways, while at the same time touching the lives of troops from all over the country, convinced me this was a story that could inspire people,” he continues. “I knew it could be a way to show the everyday struggles of senior citizens and an inspirational story of how these three seniors use a simple handshake to change their lives, and the lives of the 900,000-plus troops they’ve greeted.”
The Way We Get By has become even more personal for Aron, who will wed producer Gita Pullapilly in mid-October at The Retreat at French’s Point, Maine, thanks to the pro-bono organization Real Weddings Maine. How Aron and Gita met, and the way their entirely donated dream wedding came together, is a story in itself. Visit www.realweddingsmaine.com to find out more.
About the Filmmakers
Award-winning director and editor Aron Gaudet has worked on films in the United States, Jordan and India. In 2006, he attended the Sundance Producers Conference at the Sundance Institute with producer Gita Pullapilly for The Way We Get By, and they were subsequently named 2007-2008 WGBH Boston Filmmakers in Residence, where they worked on the film’s post-production. His other credits include “India: A New Life,” a WGBH-Frontline World production and winner of three Telly Awards, and the short film “OUCH!” (on the art of eyebrow threading). He has won numerous awards in television, including a total of eight Telly Awards, two Vermont Association of Broadcasters awards, a Michigan Association of Broadcasters award and two Emmy nominations.
A member of the International Documentary Association (IDA) and the Independent Feature Project (IFP), he is a graduate of the New England School of Communications. He grew up in Maine and recently moved to Brooklyn, NY, from Boston.
Gita Pullapilly is an award-winning television journalist and film producer who has produced films in the United States, Jordan and India and whose stories have aired on CBS, CNN and ABC. In 2006, she was selected as a participant in the Sundance Producers Conference at the Sundance Institute for The Way We Get By and in 2007 she was selected as a WGBH Filmmaker in Residence for the film. She was inducted into the Royal Society of the Arts in recognition of her work in film and television.
In addition to producing “India: A New Life,” Gita produced the Fulbright-funded film “Diary of a Refugee,” and was the first filmmaker chosen as a Fulbright Senior Scholar to Jordan. She was born and raised in South Bend, Ind., and graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in finance and from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism with a master’s degree. She worked as a television reporter before making the switch to documentary filmmaking.
Gita is the recipient of a University of Notre Dame Asian American Alumni Association Exemplar Award, two Associated Press Awards, a Michigan Association of Broadcasters Award and a Northwestern University Scholarship for Outstanding Storytelling. She is a member of IFP in Chicago and New York, the IDA, Women in Film and Video and the Color of Film Collaborative. She recently moved from Boston to Brooklyn, NY.
On the day Bill found out he had cancer, he was still the first one to the airport. An eccentric World War II veteran, Bill knows firsthand what a thank you means to a soldier. When troops returned from Vietnam without any recognition for serving their country, Bill made a promise to never let it happen again. So now he executes each greeting with military precision, supporting the soldiers unconditionally.
Outside the airport, Bill’s life is spiraling out of control. While battling his spreading cancer, he is also drowning in financial debt. With time running out and creditors hounding him, Bill is forced to make a decision that will change his life forever.
Joan was afraid to go out after dark. Three knee operations forced her to use a walker, leaving her fearful of falling. After spending her life caring for her eight children, Joan was left living alone in an empty nest. But five years ago everything changed. Joan discovered troop greeting, and it quickly became an addiction. What she loves the most is learning about each soldier’s family. But as a mother and grandmother, she welcomes them home, but can never say goodbye. Joan has to confront her issues of letting go when she discovers her granddaughter Amy (30), a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, will soon be deployed to Iraq.
Jerry can usually be found parked near the airport runway. Sitting in his truck with his dog and best friend, Mr. Flannigan, he watches for troop planes overhead. When he spots one, if he’s fast enough, he can be inside the airport before the wheels touch the ground. With troop greeting, Jerry’s goal is simple-put a smile on each soldier’s face. This small act helps him cope with the tragic death of his son.
Haunted by these memories and facing unexplained heart problems, Jerry must come to terms with his own mortality following the sudden death of a close friend.
The Way We Get By companion website, www.pbs.org/pov/waywegetby, offers a streaming video trailer of the film, an interview with the filmmakers, a list of related websites, organizations and books, lesson plans, discussion guides and special features including Aron Gaudet, Jerry Mundy, Joan Gaudet and Bill Knight answering viewers’ questions on the PBS Engage blog, www.pbs.org/engage, during the week of Nov. 9.
The Way We Get By will be available for sale in time for the holidays at www.thewaywegetbymovie.com beginning Nov. 3, 2009 for $19.99.
POV works with public television stations and national and community-based groups across the country to foster community dialogue around the issues presented in the film. For a list of upcoming screening and discussion events for The Way We Get By, go to: http://www.amdoc.org/outreach_news.php.
POV also works with nationally recognized media educator Dr. Faith Rogow to develop a discussion guide with background information to help event organizers carry out discussions around the film’s content. Cari Ladd has created the lesson plan. POV partners with librarians around the country to create multimedia resource lists of related books and videos that further explore the issues. The materials are available free of charge at www.pbs.org/pov/waywegetby.
Director/Editor: Aron Gaudet
Producer: Gita Pullapilly
Executive Producer: Warren Cook
Cinematographer: Aron Gaudet and Dan Ferrigan
Original Music: Zack Martin
The Way We Get By is a co-production of Dungby Productions, the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and American Documentary, Inc. | POV, WGBH, Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
Special Jury Award, South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival
Best Documentary, Audience Award Winner, Newport International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Atlanta Film Festival
Best Documentary, Little Rock Film Festival
Best Documentary, Phoenix Film Festival
Audience Award, Full Frame Documentary Festival
Standing Up Competition Winner, Cleveland International Film Festival
Eric Parker Social Justice Award, Indianapolis International Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Boston Independent Film Festival
Produced by American Documentary, Inc. and now in its 22nd season on PBS, the award-winning POV series is the longest-running showcase on American television to feature the work of today’s best independent documentary filmmakers. Airing June through September with primetime specials during the year, POV has brought more than 275 acclaimed documentaries to millions nationwide, and has a Webby Award-winning online series, POV’s Borders. Since 1988, POV has pioneered the art of presentation and outreach using independent nonfiction media to build new communities in conversation about today’s most pressing social issues. More information is available at www.pbs.org/pov.
Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, The Educational Foundation of America, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The September 11th Fund and public television viewers. Funding for POV’s Diverse Voices Project is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KCET Los Angeles, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.
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Written by Lanee Neil