kottke.org posts about thebridge
The rate of suicides off of the Golden Gate Bridge increased sharply in 2006, in part because of the local screening of The Bridge, a documentary about Golden Gate Bridge suicides. "The Bridge premiered locally in April. In May, four people jumped to their deaths and another 11 tried to commit suicide. Normally, no more than two people succeed per month, and an average of four others attempt to jump."
Having lived in San Francisco, I've walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and driven across it countless times. The bridge is a nearly perfect metaphor for what some people go there to do. The view on a clear day into the city, the red painted cables glowing in the sun, the sudden way the fog comes in off the ocean to envelop the bridge, the path from the cold city to the warmth of Marin County. Death too is beautiful, dramatic, mysterious, abrupt, and an escape to another place.
In The Bridge, a film about the Golden Gate and suicide, director Eric Steel makes effective use of the bridge's imagery and its relation to death; you can see why so many people choose to end their lives there. The footage he and his crew got is astounding at times...families discuss the death of a loved one while that same person is shown pacing back and forth on the bridge, thinking, waiting. You see a group of police officers, looking almost bored (which was probably hyper-aware nonchalance), talking a man back over the railing.
And yet, I can't tell if that footage actually added anything to the discussion of the issues of mental illness, depression, and coping which were at the heart of many of the jumpers' problems. Does watching death make it any more understandable to family members. To audience members? The footage doesn't say why, it just shows us how, and those aren't quite the same things.
Here's an earlier post on The Bridge, a graph of suicides by location on the Bridge, and the New Yorker article by Tad Friend that inspired the film.
One of the films premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival is The Bridge, a documentary by Eric Steel about suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge. The trailer is available on the festival site but be warned that it contains actual footage of people climbing over the railing of the bridge to commit suicide.
The Bridge was inspired by a 2003 New Yorker story by Tad Friend called Jumpers, a piece about suicide and the bridge. The subject of suicide is often not discussed in the media. Self-inflicted deaths aren't usually reported in the newspapers or on TV. Suicide prevention activists caution against suicide contagion due to media exposure of individual suicides leading to copycat deaths.
But that's just the start of the controversy surrounding the film. In order to secure a permit to shoot the Golden Gate (which he did for the entirety of 2004, amassing almost 10,000 hours of footage), Steel said he was shooting footage to capture "the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge". He says he lied to discourage people to seek out his cameras to immortalize their deaths on film, but it's also true that Golden Gate National Recreation Area officials certainly wouldn't have given him a permit to film suicides.
Steel interviewed family members of the jumpers without disclosing that he'd filmed the death of their loved ones (again to avoid publicity for the filming and the death immortalization problem). Some family members felt manipulated by the omission when they learned of it.
Then there's the matter of the filming itself. The film crew's basic job description was to wait for people to die...they needed people to die for their film. If there's no good footage of people jumping, there's no film. Without too much trouble, you can imagine Steel instructing his crew to shoot the next one at a wider angle, the crew refining their techniques for catching the jumpers on film, and the mixture of excitement, dread, and the satisfaction of a job well done when they catch a jumper on film. But the crew was also trained in suicide prevention and intervened in several attempts. And listening to Steel talk about the film, it obviously wasn't meant to be Faces of Death Part XII.
Here are a few more articles on The Bridge:
- Film documenting Golden Gate Bridge suicides premieres, San Jose Mercury News
- Golden Gate star of dark documentary, San Francisco Chronicle
- Man Survives Suicide Jump From Golden Gate Bridge, ABC News