May 4, 2006

New film shows drama of Golden Gate Bridge suicides

By Adam Tanner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Every few weeks, someone climbs
over the railing of San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Bridge
and jumps to their death at one of the highest-profile suicide
sites in the world.

Local media rarely report the deaths, and few people have
seen the dramatic suicides -- until now. Filmmaker Eric Steel's
new film "The Bridge," which shows six suicides, premiered
recently at New York's Tribeca and San Francisco's film

Steel, 42, set up camera crews at both sides of the bridge
that connects San Francisco to the Marin Headlands. They
monitored bridge activity during all daylight hours of 2004 and
recorded 23 suicides.

When the public first learned of the project, some
protested and even called it a snuff film. Steel, a former film
executive directing his first movie, said the critics
misinterpreted his intention.

"When I first got to the theater, there were people who
were holding up protest signs," he said of the first San
Francisco screening this week. "People made a lot of
assumptions and came to a lot of conclusions without having
seen the movie."

"There were experts saying this isn't a good thing, but I
don't think anyone who has seen the movie has had that
reaction," he told Reuters. "The idea is to try to help people
and to save lives by raising awareness."

The film opens with eerie music and a view of the nearly
two-mile-(3-km-) long suspension bridge. Eventually a man in
jeans and a green shirt climbs over the four-foot-(1.2-meter-)
high barrier and plunges to his death.

Although the six people jumping are the most striking
images of the unnarrated film, family and friends of the
deceased describe their lives and present often sympathetic
profiles of troubled people.


Steel said he posted camera crews with telephoto lenses on
both shores to zero-in on people who exhibited irregular
behavior such as pacing back and forth.

"Not a day went by when we did not see a person or people
who fit that description," he said. "There were days when we
watched people walk back and forth for several hours. Almost
all the people we filmed walked off the bridge."

He said his film crews notified bridge officials whenever
someone climbed over the railing -- calls he said saved lives.

In recording about 10,000 hours of video, the film crews
captured 23 of 24 known suicides in 2004, Steel said, some with
just a wide angle photo that shows a splash about 220 feet (67
meters) below.

Steel saw parallels with horrific images of people jumping
from the burning World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

"This idea that the people had chosen to jump rather than
die in the inferno certainly weighed in on all this," he said.
"I believe that people who were choosing to jump from the
bridge were doing so in order to escape, you know, their own
emotional inferno."

Golden Gate Bridge officials are concerned the many hours
of unused film could reveal security secrets and are holding
talks with Steel about the outtakes, said Celia Kupersmith,
general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge District.

Officials at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area,
which granted Steel permission to film for a year for a $65
fee, have expressed displeasure that he told them his film's
focus was the interaction between the bridge and nature.

"The park service was disappointed that Mr. Steel was not
more forthcoming about what his project actually was," said
Rudy Evenson, chief of special park uses.

For decades, local officials have considered proposals to
build a suicide barrier, but rejected the idea for financial,
structural or aesthetic reasons. Officials recently approved
funding to conduct the most extensive study of the issue in a