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by Danielle Kourtesis
July 13th, 2009

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See The Way We Get By at the IFC CENTER.

Filmmakers and Doc Subjects in Attendance!

On Friday, June 10th, Rooftop Films screened Aron Gaudet’s film The Way We Get By on the lawn of the Automotive High School. Aron Gaudet is an award-winning director and editor. Past films include India: A New Life, a WGBH-Frontline World production, which won three Telly wards. His latest project, The Way We Get By, Winner of the SXSW Special Jury Award, is a deeply personal documentary that chronicles the lives of troop greeters. The film focuses on the lives of three senior citizens who go the airport at all hours of the day and night to thank American soldiers leaving and returning from Iraq. The film steers clear of an overt political message, and is instead a contemplative and deeply personal meditation about service, compassion, loneliness, and aging.

Rooftop’s Julia Friedman spoke with Aron about his film.

ROOFTOP FILMS: Give us a brief description of your film for those who haven’t seen it yet.

ARON GAUDET: The Way We Get By is really about life and more importantly how having a purpose in your life means so much. We follow three seniors who volunteer as troop greeters–they go day in and day out to a small airport in Bangor, Maine to greet troops heading to and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And over the last six years, while greeting nearly one million U.S. soldiers and Marines, they have been able to fight through the many obstacles that come with growing old simply because they are determined to keep their promise to be there for every flight.

RF: Your mother is one of the protagonists in the film. What compelled you to tell her story?

AG: After retiring, my mother had spent years looking for a hobby to put her time into, but had found nothing of interest and basically spent her days sitting at home reading books and watching birds. And then she found troop greeting and it transformed her life. Suddenly she was never home, going out to the airport seven days a week, at any time of the day or night, to greet troops. Seeing this change first hand really inspired me to look closer and see what it was that had made her so active. Once I saw a troop flight come in and be greeted I understood the emotional draw, and really just thought it was a great story to tell.

RF: In what way do you think the relationship between a documentary filmmaker and his/her subjects influences the finished product?

AG: I think in our case it influenced the finished product a great deal. This was our first feature film and we had been told by some documentary filmmakers that you shouldn’t get too close to your subjects or form friendships with them because it would just be harder to objectively tell their story. We decided to do the exact opposite. We became a part of their lives and them a part of ours. Besides my mom, the other two subjects from the film are like family now, and we continue to talk with them every week, and visit them whenever we can. The result, I think, is an extremely intimate film. So many times our subjects completely opened up to us emotionally, and gave us so much because there was a great deal of trust built in our relationships with them. They knew we would be there for the long haul. And in the edit room, we were able to separate our feelings for them and still be very true in telling each of their stories. I would never do it any other way.

RF: Your film neither strikes an anti-war, nor pro-war stance, but rather focuses on personal sacrifices and relationships. Especially when dealing with topics as divisive as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why did you choose to omit your own critical stance?

AG: At the airport they have a few rules you must follow if you would like to greet the troops and the number one rule is “leave your politics outside the airport”…they are really determined to not have what they do be political in any way. It is simply about supporting the troops. So it was a very easy choice to give that same rule to our film. We just felt like there were so many documentaries out there, related to the war, that took such a political stance, and we really didn’t want to be another one of those films. Plus, to tell the story of these three individuals didn’t require politics, and our political views certainly had no bearing on the story.

RF: Both the young soldiers and the aging protagonists showed a deep commitment to service. Do you think that this is perhaps more typical than the mainstream media would have us believe? Are these characters exceptional people, or do they represent the strength of character of many Americans?

AG: I think they represent what many people believe in and would like to do, but I think their extreme dedication and commitment sets them apart from most people. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the majority of Americans would still be getting calls, in the middle of the night, 7 days a week, and getting out of bed to drive to the airport and greet troops–six years into the war. I think the majority of Americans support the troops regardless of their politics, but the dedication it takes to support them the way our subjects do is truly inspiring.

RF: Have you always been a full-time filmmaker? If not, what has your professional journey been?

AG: The Way We Get By is my first feature film, and my journey to get to this point has been a long one. For ten years, I worked as a promotion producer in television news in different markets around the country. And for ten years, I looked for ways to make that jump to filmmaking, but it wasn’t until I met producer Gita Pullapilly, and found my perfect partner, that I was able to do so…that’s why I’m marrying her! She was truly my equal on the producing side of things, and I felt like I finally had someone I could go into battle with and take on a project like
a feature film.

RF: Tell us about your next project.

AG: My next project takes place on October 16th–our wedding day. After that, we’ve got several projects we’re interested in, but still looking for one of them to speak to us like this one did. One thing we learned through all this is we need to fall in love with one of our ideas completely if we’re going to dedicate four years of our lives to it.

Buy tickets to see The Way We Get By at the IFC Center.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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