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People suffer largely unnoticed while the rest of the world goes about its business. This is a documentary exploration of the mythic beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, the most popular suicide destination in the world, and those drawn by its call. Steel and his crew filmed the bridge during daylight hours from two separate locations for all of 2004, recording most of the two dozen deaths in that year (and preventing several others). They also taped interviews with friends, families and witnesses, who recount in sorrowful detail stories of struggles with depression, substance abuse and mental illness. Raises questions about suicide, mental illness and civic responsibility as well as the filmmaker's relationship to his fraught and complicated material. Written by
The documentary caused significant controversy when Eric Steel revealed that he had tricked the Golden Gate Bridge committee into allowing him to film the bridge for months and had captured 23 suicides which took place during the filming phase of the project. In his permit application to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area Steel said he intended "to capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge." See more »
[after witnessing a suicide]
When I talked to the highway patrolman, I asked him "Is this a rare occurrence or does this happen a lot?" And he looked and me and he sort of smiled and he said, "It happens all the time."
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Initially this documentary hit the headlines with complaints of the company that own the Golden Gate Bridge stating they were deceived that the director and his crew were filming "Great American Landmarks" and that they were merely filming stock footage for the project. I believe this is an acceptable lie, being that if someone posed you a question asking if they could film your property because of the notoriety of the popularity of it as a suicide spot, you would decline the offer! That aside, this documentary does feature real deaths and (in the press screening I attended in the UK) they are uncensored-albeit a large splash rather than blood splatter, which is not brilliant viewing material for those of weak dispositions, but does cause very interesting discussion points around the reason as to why those who choose to jump do so. We are subjected to watch a number of jumpers of various ages plunge the four seconds to their death by means of a hand-held camera from a distance. As filmmakers, a moral question is raised as to why they just filmed the jumpers and didn't prevent it from happening. My understanding of this is that the director did actually prevent the majority from jumping (evident in the film) but others were simply too quick to save. One of the witnesses interviewed from the reported 100 hours + of film stock, actually comments as to why he photographed a woman about to jump before attempting to save her. He says that any nature film cameraman would carry on filming, even if a tiger was running straight at them as a) objectively this makes brilliant aesthetics for the finished product and b) looking upon any act through a viewfinder makes any event slightly unreal and psychologically you are compelled not to anything until 'reality' slaps you in the face! Watching the documentary some of the suicides (especially those shot static, long distance) look like they were captured 'by accident'.
The witnesses interviewed in the film, including some of the jumper's parents and close family, are very brave to give their thoughts and opinions as to why they believe the jumpers committed the final act. As an audience we feel every emotion conveyed by their friends and family. The interviews and deaths are intertwined with montage of beautiful shots of the bridge showing it as a very romantic setting, not too dissimilar to the Humber Bridge in Hessle (near Hull), England-which is also notoriously known for it's high suicide rates, but what the Humber estuary lacks is the sheer awe of the surrounding landscape and slightly better achievements of engineering. A gradual picture is built up of the bridge, we see it objectively, as a constant unchanging structure ruling the landscape it inhabits. We are shown the bridge by day and by night, during busy summer periods, during misty autumn and winter mornings, as a tourist hot-spot; thousands of tourists walking across it, people playfully mimicking jumping from the bridge or hanging from it to scare their friends, visitors painting it, as a working bridge; workmen climbing it for maintenance and drivers going to and from work. The observation is clear and obvious, again touched upon by the interviewees, the jumpers (like everyone else) are wooed by the sheer beauty of the bridge.
The only flaw in the film is that there is no expert witness (i.e. a psychiatrist or doctor) interviewed which would solidify the documentaries main objective at focusing on mental illness as the reason for getting to the point of giving up and as a by product, tarnishing a beautiful setting.
On a positive note the filmmakers do not romanticise the jumpers in any way, we are merely observing how people fall, (all individual styles), even if we are made to keep returning to one particular person, Gene, a little too often. Also, one the key interviewees has the power to make you laugh and make you cry within an instant and it is this person who gives the strongest arguments towards the reasons for why the jumpers do it.
As a whole, the film does actually achieve what the director supposedly made the owners of the bridge initially believe he was making in the first place-document an important historical American landmark as a living entity! The main focus, however, falls (no pun intended) onto the jumpers that dwell on the bridge. There is a fitting tribute to the jumpers at the end, all being credited by individual name and when they jumped during 2004.
This documentary is plainly and simply a year in the life of a bridge. It should be viewed by all as it is an interesting (if only scratching the surface) piece on the subject of mental illness. It is refreshing to view an unbiased documentary like this (such as Grizzly Man), in an increasingly politically motivated documentary age (Inconvenient Truth, etc). Maybe the reason why this is hitting the headlines is because the truth scares. If any change is to be made, it is the safety barrier of the walkway, although this is NOT suggested once in the film.
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