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The Way We Get By premiered on POV last year on Veterans Day. About a group of elderly troop greeters in Bangor, Maine, the film was one of our most well received of 2009. PBS will be rebroadcasting The Way We Get By on most local stations tonight — Tuesday, August 3 at 10 PM. (Check local listings.)
In addition to receiving an Emmy nomination earlier this summer, the filmmakers, Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly have launched a companion website to the film and are readying a 2-disc DVD Collectors Edition DVD. With the website, The Returning Home Project, Aron and Gita hope to extend the work of the Maine Troop Greeters by creating a welcoming space for those seeking to support all U.S. Vets — from those who served in the second World War to those returning from the current wars.
We caught up with Aron and Gita yesterday and asked them about what they've been up to since The Way We Get By premiered last fall.
Can you give us an update on Bill, Jerry, and Joan? How have they been doing since we saw them in the film?
They are each a couple years older, but still doing pretty well physically, and still greeting troops every chance they get. They continue to be a real inspiration to us in their commitment to being at the airport day after day. Also, they've been able to travel all across the country with The Way We Get By and enjoyed some pretty incredible experiences — a trip to the White House, a trip to a star-studded Hollywood event to accept AARP's Movies For Grownups award for Best Documentary of 2009, and a photo spread and article in People Magazine. It's been a pretty busy and whirlwind year for the three of them.
What is the current count for the number of troops greeted in Bangor, Maine?
I put a call into Joan (my mom) for this one... the very latest update has the troop count at 1,075,000+ and growing — she said a flight is due in later this afternoon.
Joan's involvement in the Maine Troop Greeters was the genesis for the film. How did she first get involved with the organization?
As Bill says in the film, the first flight came through on May 3rd, 2003. She got involved greeting troops a few months later, in the fall of 2003, when a friend invited her to accompany her to the airport. One flight and she was hooked. After that, she got on a call list and started going to flights 24/7. It was a pretty instant addiction.
What was the most surprising thing you learned during the process of making The Way We Get By?
When we look back at the last five years, I think what we value most is everything we learned about ourselves through the process of making the film. We learned a lot as filmmakers, but Bill, Joan and Jerry also taught us so much about life, and what is important in life. But maybe the most surprising thing was having a group of wedding vendors all come together to give Gita and I a dream wedding on the coast of Maine. To have people support the film and us in such amazing ways continues to surprise us.
Have your film and the Maine Troop Greeters spurred other troop greeter groups to organize in other parts of the country?
This is one of those things that is kind of hard to track. We've certainly been contacted by a lot of people who have been inspired by The Way We Get By and were looking for more information on greeting troops in their area. Luckily, we have a great relationship with the U.S.O. and many other volunteer organizations across the country — so we've had the resources available to point them towards. I'm hoping the film has at least inspired many others to seek out opportunities within their communities to volunteer.
How will the anticipated troop withdrawals -- next month in Iraq and next summer in Afghanistan -- affect the schedule for the troop greeters?
The Maine Troop Greeters are already very busy greeting troops. Multiple flights come into the Bangor International Airport nearly every day. Troop withdrawals may make for some busier flight schedules, and even more troops coming through, but I'm sure the troop greeters are up for the challenge. They'll never complain about having too many troops coming home to greet. They'll just need more cookies.
Are you taking Joan to the Emmys? If so, who will she be wearing?
We're not sure if Joan or the guys will be able to make it to New York City for the Emmys. But if she does make it to the award ceremony, she would be wearing whichever designer is the first to design an evening dress with a large American flag on the front. She would definitely want to still show her patriotism and support for the troops!
What are you working on now?
In many ways, The Way We Get By still keeps us quite busy. The development and launch of our companion online resource, The Returning Home Project, has been very time consuming. Also, we are releasing a 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD of The Way We Get By in November loaded with special features and updates. In addition, we are developing a few different documentary and narrative projects with the hope of going into production on one of them by the end of the year.
Editor and Web producer
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