By GWEN OREL
For a long time, Duanne Luckow has been a little quirky, in an ordinary way. He rebuilds cars. In high school in the early ’80s, he takes photographs of girls and makes films, often fictional secret agent films, starring himself.
By Dec. 8, 2010, he’s standing on the top of a waterfall, claiming to be from the planet Pluto, and calling a YouTube guru he’s never met his twin flame, threatening to commit suicide.
Shortly after that, he’s involuntarily committed to Oregon State Hospital (the setting of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”), charged for the stay, and released, with nowhere to go.
“That Way Madness Lies…,” however, isn’t about the abuse of patients in the hospital.
The film looks at the loopholes in the mental health system in the United States, in which patients can’t really be treated until they’re criminalized. As a result, Duanne Luckow is in and out of institutions for years. Duanne Luckow can refuse treatment, invoke HIPAA laws, and cut himself off from the very people who want to help him.
His sister, Sandra Luckow, documents his journey in “That Way Madness Lies…” Some of the film is also taken by her brother, an aspiring filmmaker. Making it together was a way to bring them closer.
Sandra Luckow, and associate producer Stu Zakim, a Montclair resident, will appear in Montclair on July 19 and 20 for a Q&A following screenings of the film.
Sandra Luckow, younger by just 13 months, documents his journey. Her brother’s filmmaking inspired her own career, she says in the film. As a student at Yale in 1986, she made “Sharp Edges,” about a young Tonya Harding competing in the National Figure Skating Championships at age 15. “I started making the film after receiving my brother’s iPhone footage, which was when he was in the Oregon State Hospital in March of 2011 when he gave me the footage,” Luckow said. They did their first shoot in June, and finished in May 2017, she continued.
The hardest thing for Luckow often was being in the scenes she was filming, such as scenes of therapy. “In some ways I was utterly present. And yet at the same time I was thinking, ‘I need to get cutaways, I need to get a reaction shot, I hope I’m not missing something really important with what with the person who was talking.’”
Family discussions about Duanne’s belief in a Nigerian prince simply couldn’t have been filmed by anyone else, however, she said.
Early in the documentary, Sandra Luckow explains that her family was eccentric — she herself did ventriloquism; her mother made miniatures — and though she explores, she can’t find what she calls “the line between creativity and crazy.”
When she realizes Duanne thinks Canadian internet New Age guru Jessica was speaking only to him, she became worried. At the border, Duanne told Canadian officials he didn’t need an address, as his psychic guides would safely deliver him and charged the border. That incident led to the police visit to her parents’ house that is seen in the trailer.
But criminalizing the mentally ill is a problem, Sandra Luckow said. “You cannot get help without financial resources in the country unless you are indigent, unless your resources have been completely decimated, and then the only way to get help is to criminalize the behavior that is caused by the mental illness itself. And right now in this country the largest facility for the mentally ill are the jails. We are having the judicial system predicate the decisions for the mentally ill that should be made by the medical profession.”
Her brother, she said, is a 54-year-old man who can refuse treatment, and refuses to believe he is mentally ill. He has the ability to be very secretive. While it’s unusual for schizophrenia to be diagnosed at 46, she said, her brother never self-medicated with drugs or alcohol, which is often used to mask the illness, which may have made it harder to detect.
When the filmmaker spoke to Montclair Local, her brother had been sent back to Oregon State Hospital, following his 12th arrest. The program there is called “treat until fit,” which means 30 days until competent to stand trial. He likely won’t pass it however, and then he will be released again to the street. “Until some sort of policy is changed, the future for my brother is very bleak,” she said.
At screenings of the film, she has realized that “there is at least 25 percent of the audience that can say, ‘I know somebody who went through this,’ or ‘I’m going through this myself.’” She also receives a lot of gratitude and positive feedback from professionals in the mental health community, who tell her their hands are tied.
While she would not like to see people forced to take strong anti-psychotic drugs, the fact that mental illness doesn’t qualify for disability insurance has led to a big financial drain on her family.
And there aren’t enough people dedicated to mental health. There are only three policemen in Oregon assigned to mental health care, when “90 percent of the calls that they receive are mental health care cases. If you think about the shooting of the journalists in Maryland, there was persistent threat. There was persistent danger by a very disturbed person. Nobody could step in, until there was imminent danger. And that’s why that happened. It doesn’t even have to be a quote, unquote mental issue. We have to intervene at an earlier stage.”