All My Puny Sorrows filmmaker Michael McGowan and stars Alison Pill and Mare Winningham sat down in a roundtable interview.
The roundtable interview took place over Zoom last September during the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. If you haven’t read the big, the film deals with suicide and mental health issues. The stigma surrounding both comes up during the interview.
Written and directed by Michael McGowan, the film is based on the best-selling novel by Miriam Toews. The film stars Alison Pill, Sarah Gadon, Amybeth McNulty, with Donal Logue and Mare Winningham.
Momentum Pictures released the film on Digital and VOD earlier this week.
What do you typically look for in a character when you’re reading a screenplay and what was it that drew you to these roles?
Alison Pill: It’s very hard to make art and it’s even harder to make good art. So in reading a screenplay that—first of all, you read to the end—is already you’re like, well, this is better than a lot of them. And then to be left with questions, feelings, and then there’s an extra special time when you’re kind of like, yeah, I think I can bring something to this. I know in my heart that I can lay myself on the table and just be like, this is me. This is it’s all out there. The opportunity came in reading All My Puny Sorrows to say yeah, this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along often and in the quality of the writing, the quality of the dialogue, and in the inimitable way that Yoli is, for I was just like, this is a beautiful chance and sort of a miraculous moment to have, to be able to do.
Mare Winningham: I’ve always been really judgy about writing. I just make a decision. I read the screenplay and I’m too judgy. I’ll just—it’s getting worse as I’m getting old. But I had it even when I was younger. I just—either I think it’s either good writing or it’s not. I just decided to do it if it’s good and decide to pass if I can’t bear the writing.
What was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Michael McGowan: That’s an easy one for us because shooting in a pandemic was an amazing gift to be able to do but the most challenging thing was just the fear of getting shut down. If we had got three positive Covid tests, we would have been forced to shut down. We had three false positives so it was never far from my mind that okay, we’re on day 1, 19 to go. There was just an enormous amount of strain that—what would happen? Alison was going on to a show. Mare, everybody had stuff that they were booked to do. It was coming up on Xmas. Would we actually get the film done was really the singular challenge for me, mentally, because the rest of it was beautiful.
Alison talks about Daniel. We had a wonderful crew. Mare and Alison have worked together. Alison and Sarah worked together. It just was a set that everybody I think really appreciated being able to make the film. It felt to me that there was a lot of kindness on set and a situation where we tried to allow everybody to do the best work they could possibly do. I don’t mean to say it was like the challenge was hard but I didn’t sleep well during the production, just thinking that okay, don’t get karmically too set here because Covid is looming and it’s such a fine line for things to shut down.
We had a location we were gonna shoot six of our days in and five days before, they had an outbreak there and we lost that location. We had to really scramble. It was ever present that it could, that it was a fiction that we were allowed to keep filming. Fortunately, the film, the fiction lasted through to the end.
Alison Pill: It was one of those—some productions are just sort of like—it’s just kismet. We lost that location and gained a hospital location where sunsets and trains rolling slowly through the fucking background ended up being the case. It was like, oh, yeah, we couldn’t shoot at the college but we gained this unpredictable thing. Making an independent film in any year is difficult and to add to it, to be like the possibility of this in terms of insurance, whatever, we were blessed in kind of amazing ways just in those redirects of like, Okay, well, in the way that you sort of have to improvise in indie filmmaking, generally, to add to it this other level, but then to be like, oh, no, we literally have trains running through the background of shots at sunset. (Laughs)
Michael McGowan: Yeah, that’s magic in our—yeah, we lost the day because all of a sudden, our schedule opened. That kind of stuff was kismet into our hand.
There’s been a stigma over the years when it comes to discussing mental health and this film touches on suicide and its impact on family members. What do you hope viewers take away from watching the film?
Michael McGowan: I would say that just the humanity, the complexity, the impossibility of those situations, that there are no right answers, and there’s no judgment would probably be one of the things I would hope.
Mare Winningham: Yeah, that there’s nothing as whole as a broken heart.
All My Puny Sorrows is now available on Digital and VOD.
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