out of Five
Running time: 93
This fascinating, sensitive documentary is an extraordinary film that is both thought-provoking and deeply moving, although it contains images that some viewers may find upsetting.
What's it all about?
In 2004, inspired by a magazine article called Jumpers, film-maker Eric Steele set up a camera crew by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and filmed for the entire year, capturing 23 of the 24 people who jumped to their deaths from the bridge.
Where possible, Steele also interviewed friends, relatives, witnesses and people who stepped in to try and prevent the suicides from happening, as well as one young man who, incredibly, survived the jump (although his story was featured in the article and he wasn't one of the 24 2004 jumpers).
Despite the tasteless-sounding premise, the deaths are not presented in an exploitative or sensationalised manner and they're not romanticised or sentimentalised either. Instead, what emerges is a thoughtful, sensitive study of mental illness, with the implicit message that better medical care may have prevented some of these tragedies from happening.
An interesting moment occurs when a girl clambers onto the bridge and a nearby photographer is clearly torn between helping her and getting a shot of her jumping off. This explicitly mirrors the uncomfortable question of the film-maker's own moral obligation regarding the film, but in fact, although it's never mentioned, Steele was in touch with the bridge authorities and radioed them every time the film crew spotted a potential jumper.
The film also raises another compelling issue: given that over 1300 people have jumped to their deaths since the bridge opened in 1937, shouldn't something be done to make it harder to jump from?
Allegedly, the authorities have always resisted the idea, on the grounds that it would be uneconomic.
A compelling, thought-provoking documentary that deserves to be seen.
Catch it now while it's on limited release. Highly recommended.