Friday, October 20, 2006

My cover story about the controversial new documentary The Bridge, which captures on camera those who attempted and those who succeeding in committing suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004 is published today in The Pacific Sun, an Alternative Weekly paper out of Marin County, CA.

Here's the beginning:


The Bridge, a new documentary, opens with a wide-angle shot of the stately Golden Gate Bridge gleaming its signature red on a rare fog-free day. Birds dip elegantly into the wind, kayakers row in the bay’s calm waters—except for some slightly ominous music, this could very well be a promotional video for tourism in San Francisco.

That is, until an average-looking man in a green shirt climbs over the railing and leaps to his death, disappearing in a circular splash.

The leap looks effortless since the camera can’t truly capture the reality: The man fell at speeds of up to 80 mph; the impact of his body against the water like hitting concrete, likely shattering many bones and puncturing organs.

Nor does it capture the fact that he may have lived for a few minutes in great pain before either drowning in the water or in the blood filling his lungs.

“The bridge has this magical ability to practically erase what happens there,” says the film’s director, Eric Steel. “Someone jumps, there’s a splash, the boats come by and then it’s as if nothing has happened. I think that’s really the same way we deal with suicide and mental illness in general. But once there’s an actual film of someone jumping off the bridge you can’t just forget it; the image won’t disappear.”

Steel and his crew filmed the east side of the Golden Gate Bridge—the side of choice for most jumpers since it faces the majestic cityscape—for the entire year of 2004 and captured on film most of the jumps made or attempted. Then he interviewed the families, friends and even one of the rare survivors. The result is a 90 minute film, which has set off a storm of questions about his intentions, and about who is responsible for preventing jumpers.

Since it opened in 1937, the bridge, with its accessibility by car and walkway, has been a means to an end for roughly 1,500 people (not all bodies are recovered, so the numbers aren’t firm). Contrary to notions circulated in the media that it is the number-one suicide magnet for jumpers worldwide, the vast majority of those jumpers—87 percent according to a study commissioned by the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California (PFNC)—are Bay Area residents. Marin County residents are the second-most frequent jumpers; San Franciscans the most.

The subject of suicide is as old as the bridge itself, but it’s back in the public discussion due to the confluence of Steel’s documentary—which opens in select theaters on October 27—and a new study approved by the bridge’s board of directors that will determine the feasibility of a suicide barrier. The study is the eighth and furthest step the bridge has taken toward a barrier. Two million dollars in private funds were raised through private donors and a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The study will conduct wind tunnel testing for the first time.

Steel and his supporters believe that his film played a role in getting the board to reach this decision. Members of the bridge’s board of directors and some opponents of the film disagree with crediting Steel, opening up a divide that is as wide and complicated as people’s feelings about suicide itself.

Read the rest HERE


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