Last week I looked at the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, through the eyes of a journalist and his fixer in the film Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi, Today, I revisit the subject, but this time through the lens of the Troop Greeters of Bangor, Maine who are portrayed in the film The Way We Get By. I had the chance to interview the filmmakers when their film screened in New York a few weeks ago at Stranger Than Fiction.
The Way We Get By is a film that cleverly navigates the subject of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without clearly choosing sides. It avoids the left/right dichotomy and instead focuses on the human experience of loss, bravery and kinship. It is about the Troop Greeters of Maine, who gather day and night at Bangor Airport to welcome and see off all of the soldiers who fight in Iraq. Although it is such a remote airport, 90% of the flights in and out of the war zones, pass through there. The greeters have already seen almost 1 million members of the military return through Bangor.
The majority of the greeters are senior citizens and the film follows 3 of the most committed and older members of the group, including the mother of one of the directors. What is so interesting about the subjects is how they seem to live just for the opportunity to brighten someone else's day. This reveals the isolated state that many older folks live in, believing that their utility has passed. People who have worked their whole lives, raised families and some who have personally served in the military reach their 60s and 70s and begin to feel that society no longer values them. If they are not providers, what is their purpose? Although, they may be of great value to their families and respected by their communities; living alone, and sitting idle, the subjects in The Way We Get By seem to be at a loss when they are not giving their time and support to the troops.
The dignity and integrity of these people will stir even the coldest heart. Read More on the Brooklyn Socialite.
Here is what producer, Gita Pullapily and director, Aron Gaudet had to say about their film, and the process of filming Aron's mother, who is one of the main Troop Greeters featured:
Robyn: When did you begin working on The Way We Get By and how did you know it was the idea that you wanted to pursue?
Gita: Aron and I started working on this Dec. 2004 and ended almost exactly to the day Dec. 2008 (when we took it to the post-house). Aron and I were dating at the time and were based in MI where we worked in television news. He took me home to meet his mom and while at home with her she got a call at 2am and we decided to get up and go to the airport. That's when we discovered Bill Knight and Jerry Mundy as well.
R: Aron, how was it to film your mother, you mentioned in the Q&A at STF that she was a little reticent. Do you think she felt a need to self-censor in any way?
Aron: It was a challenge at first to get her to agree to be on camera, but I really think she forgot about the camera very quickly after we started. And I don't think she censored herself in any way. The great thing about all of them is really how open and honest they each were, and she always surprised me in how she forgot about the camera.
R: Did she feel under pressure to be supportive of the war perhaps, because of her grandchildren's involvement?
A: No, I don't think so, I think my mom thinks about the war in simple terms, like how the war will effect the families of the soldiers, not through a political lens.
R: This is your first feature film, what were you doing before and what filmmakers are you inspired by?
A: I have always been inspired by Wernor Hertzog, and a lot of the greats... I like versatile filmmakers that make a narrative, a documentary and then a music video! People who express their creativity in lots of different ways. I always wanted to make films and wanted to just do the creative side of things. I would often tell people that I wanted to be a filmmaker, in fact that's one of the first conversations I had with Gita when I had just met her. I told her I wanted to make films and she said, "Lets do it". She was really professional and organized, and said, "Let's form a production company." and "This is how we do it." She had been a reporter for 7 years, I was making 30 second ad spots. First we made a short in India together, then we started looking for an idea for a feature. We were great working partners and then started dating, now we're great partners in general.
R: Why did you decide to leave your political views out of the film, and would you now like to say where you stand on the war?
A: I'd rather not say what my personal views on the war are. I didn't think the film needed it. I have seen a lot of films about Iraq and Afghanistan and I wanted the film to work for people on both sides of the debate. It's really a personal story not a political one. That goes for the greeters themselves as well. They have different views on the war, but their main goal is to support the troops.
I didn't want people to leave the film angry. I met soldiers who said, "No one knows about all the good work we do there." and those that said no one knows how bad it is there." It's a complicated issue.
R: How long do you think the Troop Greeters will remain there?
A: Some of the Greeters are in their 70s and 80s, but I believe they will stay until the last soldier returns.
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