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Exploring the importance in human connection

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | APRIL 22, 2010 7:30 AM

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If certain planes land at the airport in Bangor, Maine, a group of people await to greet them, no matter the time of day.

The planes are military personnel carriers, refueling before flying to Iraq and Afghanistan or back to bases farther west.

The greeters are senior citizens who go to the Bangor International Airport to say goodbye to soldiers heading to war, and to welcome back those returning from combat.

Three of those greeters’ lives are chronicled in the documentary The Way We Get By, showing at the Bijou at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

A panel discussion, “Aging and the Importance of Community Involvement and Active Lifestyles,” will be held following the first screening. After the second, the filmmakers will hold a Q&A about the film. Admission for all events is free.

Director Aron Gaudet and producer Gita Pullapilly came up with the idea for the documentary while visiting Gaudet’s mother, Joan, who is one of the three greeters that Gaudet and Pullapilly followed while filming. For as much as the greetings change the lives of the soldiers, Gaudet said, it alters those of the greeters more so.

“I just knew that it was really changing her life,” he said of his mother.

The greeters, by necessity, have to keep strange hours — the planes come in at different times each day. But that isn’t the only way their lives are altered by the service.

“The troop greeters get so much out of what happens at the airport,” Pullapilly said. “[It] helps them get through their own personal obstacles.”

In addition to Gaudet’s mother, who has medical problems and faces the prospect of two of her grandchildren being deployed to Iraq, The Way We Get By also tells the stories of Jerry, a seemingly lonely man who spends most of his time with his dog, and Bill, a World War II veteran coming to terms with his mortality.

“That’s really all he had in his life,” Gaudet said about Bill welcoming the troops to Bangor. “Outside the airport, his life was falling apart. All he has to push him through each day is that he wants to go to the airport and greet troops.”

Despite the politicization of many documentaries in which combat in Afghanistan and Iraq plays a part, Gaudet and Pullapilly decided to keep politics out of the film. The greeters, and some soldiers, offer their perspectives on the war, but it does little more than provide background.

Instead, the filmmakers hope that the documentary will serve as a larger discussion piece about community involvement, particularly in regards to seniors — which, Pullapilly said, they will discuss during the Q&A session.

“So many people forget how much our seniors have to offer,” the producer said, noting their abundant life experiences.

Gaudet hopes that The Way We Get By will serve as inspiration not just to seniors but to everyone.

“You could be in another country, you could be 25, but eventually you’re going to be going through these same things they’re going through,” he said. “All of these people, the greatest achievement of their life is coming toward the end of their life. You could be 85 and find the biggest thing you’re going to pour your life into. I think that’s inspiring.”

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