The Way We Get By is a documentary that's been making the film festival rounds in recent months. I meant to see it when it was at IFC Center this summer, then most recently it was part of the line up at the Paley Center for Media PaleyDocFest. Alas, I couldn't go on the night it was showing and ended up seeing other screenings. In honor of this Veteran's Day however, PBS showed The Way We Get By today as part of their POV series. Although I wish I would have caught it at a theater, the small screen provided just as much of an emotional impact.
Filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapully created a film that first appears to be about veterans and other voluteers that greet incoming and outgoing American troops at a small airport in Maine, however quietly and movingly it develops into something much more.
Greeting American soldiers returning from their tour of duty in places like Iraq and Afghanistan is definitely a story in and of itself, but Mr. Gaudet and Ms. Pullapully also follow three senior citizen volunteers from the airport to home and back as they discuss what being a greeter means to them and in the process allow us a close up look at becoming older, which increasingly seems to be an unjustly ignored demographic. Ironically, it's also one that most of us will be part of sooner or later.
Greeters Bill Knight, Joan Gaudet (mother of the filmmaker Aron Gaudet) and Jerry Mundy offer insight as to what it means to live thoughtfully and candidly respond to difficult questions, is war necessary and one's own mortality.
A really lovely film that is sometimes hard to watch, simply because it opens uncomfortable questions about life, how long we'll be here and what we'll do with it. Uncomfortable but necessary and what is terrific about his film is that it isn't a lecture about do-gooder volunteerism or a Hallmark channel movie about sweet, wise grandparents. For me it was about the need to be useful. Being needed gives us a feeling of purpose and meaning and it seems as though life is about finding the meaning in it.