Last night at Thom Powers' top-notch screening series, Stranger Than Fiction, Aron Gaudet's deeply moving, beautifully realized debut feature, The Way We Get By, was co-presented by the Camden International Film Festival. The festival's co-founders, Leah Hurley and Ben Fowlie, got in on the action early by recognizing a jewel-in-the-rough and showed a work-in-progress screening at their nascent nonfiction fest in Maine last fall; they've been championing this Bangor-based story ever since. The other co-host was PBS' P.O.V. which will be broadcasting the film's television premiere some time at the end of this year. (Keep checking local listings and this blog for updates). Despite the fact that the Tribeca Film Festival is currently in full swing, it was an STF sell-out, as usual, with the filmmakers on hand for a charming Q&A afterward, a drinks party and a dance party.
Gaudet and his producer (and, now, fiancée), Gita Pullapilly, both come from the world of local television news and spoke about the specific challenges and skills inherent in producing and directing a nonfiction feature. This is one of those instances where the filmmaker enters into the story through a very personal connection (Gaudet's mother is one of the main subjects), and tells the story in an intimate and singular way. But what he also manages to do is parse together many key themes so engagingly and gracefully, making new and relevant discoveries about how a few citizens (people who by any other definition, including their own, are now marginal, and marginalized, members of society due to old age and infirmity) choose to move up and out of their own circumscribed lives to reach out to the young men and women still serving overseas in a largely unpopular war, hundreds of thousands of soldiers leaving and returning through the Bangor International Airport. These seniors have remained on call, literally, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the past six years to greet and see off over one million US troops at the tiny local airport which happens to be a major military deployment hub.
The Way We Get By offers a unique (and very quiet and unpolitical) look at the toll the Iraq war has been taking on the individual citizens and families that comprise this nation. Through touch, a smile, an encouraging word (and Fireballs!), these seniors tell each and every soldier coming through the terminal how grateful they are for their sacrifice and service.
Moreover, the film also tells stories of what it's like to be old and lonely in this culture, the isolation and the feelings of uselessness and the emotional losses that come with old age. We enter into the lives of 73-year-old Jerry Mundy, 75-year-old Joan Gaudet and, the subject that touched my heart most of all, 86-year-old Bill Knight--all brave and honest souls compelled to keep going directly because of the work they're doing. With patience and sensitivity, Gaudet and Pullapilly allow their characters to help breathe new life into an issue we all think has been pretty much tapped out. Gaudet presents these wonderful subjects, albeit a bit frayed and tired, with dignity and grace, all to a person containing a life-force that transcends everyday concerns to offer object lessons in how to be a human being.
The next stop on their festival circuit will be the Hot Docs festival in Toronto next week. Don't miss the chance to see this film wherever and whenever you can.