HotDocs Interview – ANY GIVEN DAY director Margaret Byrne

ANY GIVEN DAY is a multi-year film that follows the experiences of three people, Angela, Daniel, and Dimitar, as they navigate receiving mental health treatment in a specialized probation program. The film also reveals my personal struggles with mental illness, and shows just how uncertain life with mental illness can be.” Filmmaker Margaret Byrne on ANY GIVEN DAY which screens at the 2021 edition of HotDocs.

Welcome to HotDocs! Is this your first HotDocs experience and what are you looking forward to the most?

This is my first film at HotDocs. I am honored to have Any Given Day premiere in the International Spectrum program. I’m looking forward to our panel discussion with CAMH (The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and the films’ participants which will be available online May 1st and will kick off Mental Health Awareness Month.

How did you get your start in the business and what have you worked on in the past?

I moved from my hometown of Chicago to NYC in 2002 and I didn’t know anyone, I spent the first couple months applying to every film related job I could find. Through a chance meeting on the subway, I landed my first film gig making a documentary about Mary J Blige’s upcoming album, Love & Life. After that project, I worked for Mary for several years. I produced a web series called and later became a Creative Director at Universal Music and directed live music videos and concerts. I started my own film company in 2004 and have worked on dozens of documentaries including Surge, Waging Change, All the Queen’s Horses, and American Promise. I directed and produced RAISING BERTIE, a multi-year documentary following the lives of three African American boys growing up in rural North Carolina. I’m currently in production on Fighting Time, a series that follows dozens of Latino and Black men that allege they were framed by police with murders they didn’t commit and a former Chicago homicide detective who’s determined to reveal the truth.

How did this doc come together?

I began filming in 2015 after half of the mental health clinics in Chicago closed and Cook County Jail became the largest mental health treatment facility in the country. I knew I wanted to focus on the perspective of people with mental illness that were navigating the criminal justice system. I started filming at the jail, following their mental health intake process and filming with a few detainees that were receiving treatment. Some detainees participated in diversion programs that offered an opportunity to expunge their record. I began observing one of these programs, the Cook County mental health court, a two-year probation that mandates and oversees defendant’s treatment. That’s where I met Angela, Daniel, and Dimitar.

What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?

I am inspired most by the people I film. It’s really their bravery, especially Angela’s, that led me to have the courage to be in the film and overcome some of my own fears. We filmed for five years and they stuck through it with me, so the relationships I have built over the course of making films is the most important part.

What was your biggest challenge with creating this doc, and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

Logistically, the biggest challenge was finding the main stories in the film. I spent several months filming at the jail and observing mental health court. I filmed with over a dozen people before I settled on the stories of Angela, Daniel, and Dimitar. I wanted to make sure that the process of filming would be positive for them and not cause them any more grief and stress because they were already dealing with so much. So that was something I was always weighing in my mind over the years as we were filming.

I think what’s most rewarding about this project is the little moments when I realize that somehow doing this has helped all of us. In a way, it’s an exercise in connecting with your neighbors and it’s amazing how showing up and being consistent can be so healing.

Let’s get technical! Tell me about the cameras-slash-equipment you used and the post-production process.

I filmed Any Given Day on a Sony FS7, primarily with Fujinon lenses. I shot most of the film on my own and ran my own sound. For the court shoots and graduations, we brought on another cinematographer and had a sound mixer.
We started editing in January of 2020 and edited for about 13 months, all done remotely. I worked with editor Liz Kaar and associate editor Rory McFadden who were really instrumental in getting me to open up about my own story that’s included in the film.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your work at HotDocs?

I’m looking forward to connecting with audiences and other filmmakers. I’m also excited to see the other films premiering at the festival.

Of course this is an unpredictable time having this show virtually. How do you feel about movies being shown in this format & do you feel this is right, or do you wish to have a more traditional theatrical release?

I am grateful to have the opportunity to connect with audiences right now in the midst of this pandemic because discussions around mental health are so critical. So even though there are drawbacks to having a virtual premiere (like not being able to sit in a theatre and feel the reaction from the audience), I’m really just glad that people are going to see it. We recorded a q&a with all the film participants which will play after the film and we’ll be doing more panels over zoom which we’re all looking forward to.

Where is the doc going next?

I’m not sure where ANY GIVEN DAY will be premiering next, but we are looking forward to premiering in the US and to sharing the film with other international audiences.

What is the one thing that you would say to someone wishing to get into filmmaking, either short or long format, especially now as things are changing at such a fast rate?

Be persistent. You don’t need to know how to get there to begin the journey of making a film, you just need to start and keep going.

And finally, what is your favourite documentary of all time and why?

One of my favorite films that I watched for inspiration while making Any Given Day is The Beaches of Agnes. I was questioning how to put myself in the film, and I was feeling very uncomfortable about including my own story. Watching her film helped me to relax and encouraged me to let go of some of my own hesitations because it is her vulnerability and honesty and freedom to explore that makes her films so brilliant.

ANY GIVEN DAY is now streaming at HotDocs Online!

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