Starring: Joan Gaudet, William Knight, Gerald Mundy
Directed by: Aron Gaudet (debut)
As a testament to the men and women serving in the U.S. military, the documentary film “The Way We Get By,” is a fine example of a human-interest story with a heart too big for the margins of a newspaper article. Where it becomes exceptional is when debut filmmaker Aron Gaudet focuses on the personal lives of his three subjects as they come to terms with their own mortality and the loneliness they feel as they grow older.
Seniors Joan Gaudet (the director’s mother), William Knight and Gerald Mundy live in Bangor, Maine and spend most of their time at the local airport where they welcome military troops coming in after their tours are completed. The Bangor International Airport is the main exit and entrance for soldiers going and coming from Iraq and Afghanistan.
With arms extended, the “troop greeters,” as they refer to themselves, want nothing more than to shake the hands of every soldier coming off every airplane. When we say “every solider” and “every airplane” we mean exactly that. Every day, Joan, William and Gerald drop what they are doing and make a trip to the airport when they hear of another unit coming in. On call 24/7, if a plane is scheduled to land at 4 a.m., the trio is there to thank the men and women for their service to the country.
“Our boys got a raw deal when they were in Vietnam,” William, a veteran himself, says referring to the hardhearted reception soldiers received when they came back home from the war. “We made up our mind that that wouldn’t happen again.”
On their way to one million handshakes, Joan, William and Gerald are dedicated patriots. While Gaudet makes this part of their lives clear through footage at the airport, the most poignant elements of his film is the way he explores the lives of these individuals. Here, we discover the true sentiment behind their selflessness.
We see the fear in Joan’s eyes as she watches her grandchildren join the military. We learn about the tragedy Gerald has overcome and the special connection he has with his faithful canine companion Mr. Flannigan. Most of the emotional pull comes from 86-year-old William, who candidly shares his thoughts about solitude and what it feels like during the final stage of life.
At this point, one might contemplate whether or not they’ve done enough to make a difference in the world. In “The Way We Get By,” Gaudet proves even the smallest acts of kindness can affect someone for a lifetime.