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CIFF 2021 – Any Given Day

October 22, 2021

 

Documentarians can be brave and bold with their perspectives and presentations, but when someone offers a subject or a story with honesty and vulnerability, their film stands out. Such is the case with director Margaret Byrne’s latest work, “Any Given Sunday”, a film that stands out not just because it presents and raw and real look at mental illness, how it is perceived and treated, but because Byrne chose to place herself amid her three subjects. She is including herself one with a history of mental illness, one who struggles to navigate each day. “Any Given Day” becomes quite a heartfelt and moving film due to that decision, as viewers will clearly see that Byrne is someone who understands how mental illness can take such a stronghold in a person’s life and make any given day a challenge.

Byrne specifically gets to know Angela, Dimitar, and Daniel, three Chicagoans who are participants in a mental health court probation program in Cook County. Due to their pasts that include an unhealthy combination of mental illness and additions (alcohol or substance abuse), these three individuals have run into difficulties in the present, making their future uncertain. It is challenging enough for them to find peace and order in their own minds, but even more challenging to maintain closeness with family members who care about them, cultivate friendships, or hold down a job. The program helps them with the essentials, such as having a place to live and enough money to afford food and clothing, but the hard work is up to each individual…and any given day that hard work is evident.

 

 

Byrne spends time with them, sits down with them and walks with them. She listens and she learns, and in turn allows us to do the same. However, those moments when the camera is on Byrne, that’s when “Any Given Day” becomes something more, as the director basically admits that she cannot ask Angela, Dimitar, and Daniel, to do something that she herself is not willing to do. That’s not just a valuable leader, that’s someone to emulate. As we get to know how Byrne’s own mental illness has affecting her family, chiefly her relationship with her teenage daughter, we reminded that the people we see walking down the street, riding the bus or train, maybe even those we work alongside, all have a story and more often than not that story involves some kind of mental illness that is compounded by the challenges life presents.

What’s quite striking is the way in which Byrne visually her story visually. She is observant of her environment and finds ways to present Chicago neighborhoods in new and different ways. Using either up-close camera shots or what appears to be drone work, Byrne covers all angles of brick buildings, snow-covered streets, ground views of airplanes careening across bright blue skies, while her subjects seem lost or unseen, possibly even imprisoned by their surroundings, their circumstances, and subconsciously by their illnesses.

 

 

While it would’ve helped to learn just how Byrne was introduced to Angela, Dimitar, and Daniel, such thoughts are soon erased by how respectful and relatable she is with them.  She gives them space and time, while earning their trust, and in turn, that is reciprocated by them. At one point in the documentary, when Byrne becomes too overwhelmed with her own anxiety, she backs away and halts filming. Dimitar reaches out to her, checking in on her, wondering if she needs someone to talk to because he knows that typically helps him.

We learn this through the text communications between Byrne and her subjects, which appear on the screen at times when the camera isn’t on any of them. While this narrative approach has been used in many movies, considering that’s how we communicate with each other, the timing and the use of it has a greater impact, since we’ve know how much of a life line such interaction is for these people. It’s one of many ways Byrne conveys empathy in “Any Given Day”. 

In fact, watching “Any Given Day” brought to mind the way in which Roger Ebert described movies…

“We are all born with a certain package. We are who we are. Where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We are kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people, find out what makes them tick, what they care about. For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class, a different nationality, a different profession, different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that, to me, is the most noble thing that good movies can do and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.”

 

 

“Any Given Day” is such a machine and is indeed a noble film. At no point in the documentary does Byrne arrive at any conclusions or solutions for those diagnosed with mental illness. Instead we’re just continuously shown that these are people worthy of our time, respect, and love. It’s the same approach Byrne took in her previous documentary “Raising Bertie” (which I spoke to her about her years ago), so while it’s not too surprising to see here, it is nevertheless a whelming feeling to see a documentary convey such a tone.

This week, the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) gave its Chicago Award to Byrne’s film as an highlight of the festival’s City & State program. It’s an award that comes with a grant from Panavision for an in-kind contribution of a camera rental package valued at $30,000, and a grant from Light Iron for in-kind post-production services valued at $15,000.

“Any Given Day” will be screening one more time at CIFF, tomorrow at noon, but can also be viewed virtually through Sunday, October 24th. Details can be found here. Look for the film to get a release date soon and appear on PBS at some point in the near future.

RATING: ***1/2 

 

 

 

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