Many will dismiss Eric Steel’s The Bridge as a snuff film. Many people won’t want to see it. That’s understandable.
Beginning in 2004, neophyte documentary director Eric Steel (who co-produced Martin Scorsese’s Bringing out the Dead and Alan Parker’s Angela’s Ashes) trained two cameras on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. In his permit application, Steel told the Golden Gate National Recreation Area he intended “to capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Steel wasn’t lying. Well, not entirely. The Bridge does capture the “intersection of monument and nature” at California’s most spectacular suspension bridge. What has everyone—including the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—so upset is that it also captures 23 people jumping to their deaths. The bridge is a suicide hotspot. No one in the Bay Area likes to talk about it much, but every year, more than 1000 people leap to their deaths in broad daylight. Those who jump from the bridge hit the water below at 75 mph. To date, only 26 people are known to have survived the jump.
Steel’s camera caught one such survivor. A boy who jumped landed upright and was then miraculously kept afloat by a seal. Seeing this, the film crew alerted the Coast Guard, who swooped in and rescued him. During the course of their filming, in fact, Steel’s crew were able to prevent six suicides. Furthermore, they didn’t alert the media or authorities that they were filming, lest anyone with a desire for immortalization be inspired to leap.
Those facts aren’t going to make watching The Bride any easier. It’s not going to make seeing interviews with the relatives of the deceased feel any less exploitative. Steel’s film will no doubt make for tough viewing. The big question then is whether or not you think this kind of tough viewing is worthwhile. For some residents of the Bay Area who attended the film’s premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival, The Bridge was a painful if necessary reminder that horrible manifestations of crippling isolation were taking place, without comment, in their backyard.
What will it mean to Torontonians when The Bridge screens at Doc Soup this Wednesday? Maybe most of us will see The Bridge as a snuff film. But imagine Steel’s camera was trained on our subway platforms and tunnels instead of San Francisco’s grand bridge? Would that film be a worthwhile wake-up? On Wednesday, I’ll be there with the rest of you, struggling to find a way to react. Maybe I’ll walk out. But maybe I’ll walk away seeing the world differently.
Listen to what Steel had to say at the Q&A after The Bridge was screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival here .
The Bridge screens as part of Doc Soup at the Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor Street West) on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Single tickets are $12.