By Admin | June 5, 2009

The Iraq War is without a doubt the most filmed ongoing military engagement in history, with Wikipedia listing no less than 34 entries for the query “Iraq war documentary.” With so many miles of DV tape and so many points of view, you’d think that the conflict would be pretty well covered, and yet, along comes a film like “The Way We Get By” that manages to put a new spin on things while being touching, honest, and thought-provoking at the same time.

To be fair, “The Way We Get By” isn’t about the war per se, but about three members of the “Bangor Troop Greeters,” volunteers who spend their time at the Bangor International Airport, seeing off and welcoming home American servicemen (and women). Bangor, Maine is the point of entry and exit for nearly all American military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and over the course of the film they greet over 200,000 troops, some on their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th tour.

The first greeter we meet is Bill, an 83-year-old WWII vet with 32 years of service under his belt in two different branches of the military. Despite his age, Bill’s mind is sharp and he makes a point of being first in line to shake hands with the young men and women as they disembark. Next is Joan, a great grandmother with chronic back problems and other physical ailments that still don’t prevent her from meeting troops at the airport as early as 3 a.m. The last person we meet is Jerry, a retired steelworker who never served in the military but who still feels a patriotic duty to show his appreciation for their service.

Foregoing any sort of exploration of the origins or history of the Bangor Troop Greeters, filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly instead focus exclusively on these three senior citizens and the way that volunteering shapes their lives. Over the course of the film, all three individuals suffer a personal hardship: Bill suffers from cancer and is forced to sell the farmhouse he shared with his deceased wife; Joan must see two of her grandchildren off on their way to Iraq; and Jerry loses his best friend: his dog Flanagan. And yet, not once do they question why they volunteer. If anything, these events serve only to solidify their commitment.

Much more focused than the fly-on-the-wall aesthetic used in much of the film would have you believe, “The Way We Get By” manages to be extremely moving without ever feeling exploitative. None of the volunteers openly express any specific opinions about the war, seeing their support of the troops as separate from politics. But the heartfelt appreciation of the returning troops, many with tears in their eyes, makes it easy to understand why they keep doing it. And although all three seniors at different times comment on how happy they would be if all the troops were to return tomorrow, they – and the viewers – are left to wonder what would be left for them if they did.

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