GLEN ELLYN – After Margaret Byrne earned her bachelor's degree in film from the University of Illinois at Chicago, she took a leap of faith and moved to New York, taking with her a little bit of money and no idea of what exactly she wanted to do.
But just three months after making the move, Byrne was working on a behind-the-scenes documentary for Mary J. Blige and Diddy's reunion album, "Love & Life."
"Somehow, I figured it out," Byrne said. "And I continue to figure it out."
After spending several years traveling and working as a filmmaker, Byrne is back in the Chicago area, teaching "Editing for Motion Pictures and Television" at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn as she continues to work on other projects.
Byrne worked for eight years as a cinematographer on the documentary "American Promise," which chronicles the story of two African-American men from Brooklyn as they attend school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan from kindergarten through high school graduation. The documentary won the Special Jury Award for Achievement in Filmmaking at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Since 2009, Byrne has worked on her own documentary titled "Raising Bertie" about a group of at-risk young men in North Carolina who lose their support system when their alternative school, The Hive, is closed.
"It's very easy to stereotype these kids that they are bad. But when you get to know them and understand where they're coming from and what their options are, it becomes a whole different discussion," she said.
Byrne recently secured funding for the documentary from the MacArthur Foundation, which supports independent films.
Byrne also owns the production company Beti Films. In May, she will launch Creative Vision Films, which will focus more on marketing and corporate-branding videos.
After shooting the documentary about Mary J. Blige and Diddy's reunion album, Byrne worked as the creative director for Blige's record label, Matriarch. She also spent time in Africa, where she helped launch MTV there.
As an instructor and former COD student, Byrne said she enjoys getting to share everything she's learned through her experiences with the students she teaches. She tells them they can't just do one thing; they have to build a knowledge base for themselves that includes all sorts of experiences.
After spending so many years traveling and working on a variety of projects, Byrne said she's happy to be back home. But she takes all the knowledge and experiences she's built in other areas of the world with her here.
"It's shaped who I am," Byrne said.
About Margaret Byrne
Residence: Elmwood Park
Education: Studied photography for two years at COD; bachelor's degree in film from University of Illinois at Chicago
Family: Daughter, Violet, 6
Notable: Has worked on several projects as a filmmaker, including the award-winning documentary "American Promise"