Crazy, chosen as Best Documentary at this year’s SMHAF, is a powerful film about Eric, a man living with schizophrenia who comes into conflict with the healthcare system as he attempts to exercise control over his treatment. Here, Lise Zumwalt talks about what it was like to make it.
What drew you to Eric’s story?
I was interested in what people who are diagnosed have to say about their own experience. I started with a question: what is it like to be you? What I got hooked on were the stories about choice. Eric was being force treated. Was Eric really a threat to himself? How far was the mental health system going to go to protect Eric from himself? Was that going to help him or hurt him? And who decides?
What do you think Eric’s story reveals about the state of healthcare for mentally ill people in the USA?
Huge question!! Treatment varies a lot state to state and even county to county. What struck me though was how fear underlies both our mental health policy and treatment. Fear that the ‘severely mentally ill” will be dangerous, and that’s driven legislation that supports more forced treatment.
What were the biggest challenges in making a film like this?
Crazy is essentially a verite film but there were scenes that we created and we put a lot of thought into how do we convey the experiences without slipping into cliches. Another thing we struggled with was whether to just stick with Eric’s story or to include context i.e. the debate over psych drugs, the fear of dangerousness, the two sides of the debate on forced treatment. Ultimately, we stuck with the context because we felt it added to and informed the story.
Can you tell us a bit about the reaction to the film so far? What has pleased/surprised you?
The most important thing to me is that the film feels true – that it’s an authentic and balanced portrayal of what it’s like to be in a mental health crisis. We’re the only film to explore mental commitments and choice in the US and it’s been amazing to connect with people who are like ‘hey, that’s my story! Or, wow, I didn’t know that!’ Also, we made the film to spark discussion and I am thrilled with some of the discussions I’ve been lucky enough to attend – difficult, thoughtful, insightful.
What did you learn from the experience of making Crazy, and what are you planning next?
I’ve learned so much from the recovery community about normal and not normal and the importance of having a voice and having choice and I’m grateful for that. It’s liberating! Next…oh boy…well…a web based project on the mid-term elections in the US!