Dir: Eric Steel. US. 2006.93mins.
Somewhere between a painful human issue piece and acalculated gamble as regards its potential to touch a large audience, EricSteel's debut documentary The Bridgetreads dangerous ground.
Inspired by an article in The NewYorker about the pull of the Golden Gate Bridge for would-be suicides,Steel stationed two cameras for a year at San Francisco's iconic site - wherestatistically there is one death bid every fortnight - recording all itsdaytime activity.
He then interviewed family,friends and acquaintances of those involved as well as witnesses, combiningtheir testimonies with footage of the bridge and an emotionally chargedsoundtrack.
The result is a picturewhich may touch upon themes related to suicide but which fails to say anythingmore perceptive than "don't ignore the signs of despair".
Due to its theme, The Bridge is the kind of documentarythat festivals are likely to embrace, while Steel's record within the industryas a former studio executive might lead to limited theatrical distribution.
But this is essentially TVfare, and while some audiences may compliment Steel on tackling such adifficult subject, others will attack him for the nature of the project. Thefilm premiered at Tribeca in internationalcompetition.
An ambiguous work, The Bridge is structured around onespecific suicide, a man observed by Steel's cameras on the bridge 90 minutesbefore he jumped to his death. The montage is repeated throughout the film aswe watch the subject, with his long black hair and black outfit, moving (andpossibly hesitating, although we will never know) before finally leaping at theend of the film. Inbetween Steel explores severalother cases of suicide, in which both mental illness orclear signs of distress played a part.
But by the time Steel getsto speak to interviewees related to such incidents, several months have elapsedand the answers he receives are less than passionate. While many offer theirown analysis to explain the various deeds, there is little actual insight.
Steel does touch on variousother aspects of suicide, such as the relief of some survivors, the risk ofwould-be suicides crying wolf too often and the dilemma of the photographer andcameraman - do they intervene or simply record a death'
Two moments do stand out.The is a long interview with one suicide survivor who talks freely abouteverything he emotionally went through, before, during and after he jumped. Itincludes discussion of when he decided that he wanted to live after all -although by that time he was already heading into the water.
Then there is a woman,caught by Steel's cameras as she clambers over the safety railing, only to besaved by a passerby - despite her own resistance.Strangely, Steel does not explore this instance any further. More's the pity: rescuer and would-be suicide might havemade for an interesting pair.
Despite the title, thedocumentary's location proves nothing more than a pictorial background to afilm about suicide, whose context would not have changed were it transposed toa different location. The issue of possible anti-suicide measures - such asmore effective barriers - are raised but remain very much secondary.
Easy There Tiger
Alison Palmer Bourke