SAN FRANCISCO -- Eric Steel
's documentary, The Bridge
, opens with a picturesque shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the great architectural and engineering feats of the 20th century. Less than five minutes into the film, a man casually climbs over the bridge railing and jumps 225 feet to his death in the chilly waters of San Francisco Bay. This is one of six such episodes shown in the film out of more two dozen caught by Steel's camera crew, who shot the bridge every day in 2004. (One man happily chats on his cell phone moments before leaping.)
Despite Steel's admirable intention to stimulate discussion about two taboo subjects -- suicide and mental illness -- its morbid fascination with the physical reality of death and what drives people to override the primal instinct to survive is what sustains interest in an otherwise unremarkable film. The Bridge
has a television deal with IFC, which plans to broadcast it sometime in 2007.
Lengthy interviews with family and friends of the six victims, culled from over 100 hours of footage, needs tighter editing, and are, for the most part, presented in a mundane fashion. Steel cuts back and forth between those interviews and Peter McCandless
' awe-inspiring cinematography of the bridge, captured at nearly every time of day and from every conceivable angle. Eerie music by Alex Heffes
sets a mood of apprehension and dread.
The rhythm is repetitive and grows monotonous. In fact, the entire film could have used a more structured approach. "What was in their minds when they jumped?" is asked over and over again by those left behind. The question is given a partial answer by Kevin Hines, 25, who struggled with mental illness for most of his young life, and miraculously survived his jump into the bay. Segments that feature him are engrossing.
Steel, who produced major Hollywood features such as Angela's Ashes, Bringing Out the Dead and Shaft, works on a smaller, more intimate scale in his directorial debut. One of the faults of the film is its perspective is too narrow. Steel may have chosen to do this in an attempt to force the audience to confront the central issue, though he decided to make the film after reading Tad Friend's New Yorker article, Jumpers, which provided context by looking at the debate over whether or not a suicide barrier should be installed on the bridg.
When first screened at the San Francisco Film Festival, the film met with protests and controversy. For one, Steel misled the bridge district as to the purpose of the filming. And, even though the victims chose to commit suicide in a public setting, there's an ethical question in regard to showing images of people going to their deaths, some shot through a telephoto lens. It's a violation of their privacy on what had to be the loneliest and most desperate day of their lives and a form of voyeurism, however inadvertent. Still, it's difficult to avert one's eyes and therein lays the problem. These moments are inherently dramatic, shocking -- and, for some, perversely exciting to watch.
IFC presents an Easy There Tiger Production
Writer/director: Eric Steel
Producer: Eric Steel
Executive producer: Alison Palmer Bourke
, Evan Shapiro
Director of photography: Peter McCandless
Music: Alex Heffes
Editor: Sabine Krayenbuhl
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 93 minutes