Royally Kranked

Friday, April 28, 2006

Snuff Film Or Social Activism?

Interesting article in the LA Times today, a filmmaker had cameras rolling on the Golden Gate Bridge for a year, in an attempt to undersatnd the mindset of those who commit suicide by leaping from the structure

Of course, this had riled up a great many people

bypass registration with this Bug Me Not link

Uproar Over Film of Golden Gate Suicides

For an entire year the cameras rolled, capturing death amid the eerie fog and shifting tides.

One by one, filmmaker Eric Steel documented the final moments of nearly two dozen despondent men and women, and the agonizing, four-second fall after they leaped off the Golden Gate Bridge, drawn by the span's tragic beauty.

His intent, he says, was to illuminate "the darkest corner of the human mind." If he watched enough people take their own lives, he thought, he could "spot the outward manifestations of their interior demons."

Steel says he too once considered suicide. "It's that Humpty Dumpty moment when it's all going to fall apart," he said. "For me and many others, it didn't come. For the people in this film, it did."

Undoubtedly, one's mental anguish is greatest when attempting suicide, a pain that's so overwhelming there seems no surcease possible except a permanent one

For myself, suicide was never an option for any of the rough spots for two reasons

There's no way I'd EVER want to give those who dislike me any reason to enjoy any pain I was going through-Basically, there was no way in Hell I'd give these fuckers the satisfaction of exulting my bestment

More importantly, there's no way I'd EVER put my family & friends through that kind of unimaginable grief, a true form of abuse of those who I love most

The film, "The Bridge" will open Sunday in San Francisco after playing at a film festival earlier in New York city

"This is like a newspaper carrying a front-page photo of someone blowing his head off; it's irresponsible, exploitative, voyeuristic, ghastly and immoral," said Mark Chaffee, president of Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network-California, who has not seen the movie. His 16-year-old son took his life in 1998.

"The phenomena of copycat suicides come from people just reading about this. Now we're showing it in full color on the big screen? That's just beautiful."

Chaffee's anger & pain aren't the only indicators the film set off a major tempest, also raising ire is how the project was proposed

The project set off alarms soon after shooting wrapped in December 2004 after 365 consecutive days of filming.

Officials from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area said Steel misrepresented his project when applying for filming permits, telling them he wanted to capture the grandeur of the iconic orange suspension bridge.

Instead, they complain, he made what one San Francisco supervisor dismissed in media coverage as a "snuff film."

And if the film only showed all the suicides it captured, that criticism would be completely justified, but as always, when digging into the issue deeper, other factors come to the surface

Others say publicity over the movie prompted bridge officials to fund a $2-million study of building a pedestrian suicide barrier — a move they had long resisted.....Park officials also feel duped. "He was not up front with us," said Rudy Evenson of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Officials deny that Steel's project influenced the decision to study a suicide barrier. "Does anybody think this movie truly addresses mental health problems?" said Mike Martini, a member of the bridge board of directors who says he will not see the film. "It's like saying you understand the Civil War after watching 'Gone With the Wind.' "


If the decision to study putting up a suicide barrier wasn't enacted until after the movie, then it obviously had the effect that's being denied

The 93-minute documentary draws from 10,000 hours of footage, including interviews with relatives of jumpers, and with one man who survived the 25-story plunge into the frigid water.

The film shows vivid footage of suicides, including a body pulled from the bay, and interviews with families struggling with the wreckage the jumpers left behind. Interspersed are time-lapse views of the bridge — coursing with traffic — through gloomy, almost ever-present fog.

Steel tells the tragic stories of several victims — such as a 34-year-old Bay Area man depressed by his mother's death.

Wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses — his long, black hair flying in the wind — he is seen casing the pedestrian walkway, which he did for 90 minutes. Then he jumps atop the 4-foot railing, slowly turns and almost casually falls backward — as though taking a summer day's plunge into a backyard pool.

Also interviewed is Kevin Hines, who, in 2000, survived his jump. Now 25, he speaks freely about his ordeal with manic-depression in the hope that a suicide barrier will be built.

"This film shows what a suicidal person feels like, what their family feels like," said Hines, who has seen the movie. "It shows this happens all the time."


In a phone interview this week from his Manhattan office, Steel, a film producer and book editor, said he became interested in the bridge in 2003 after he read a story about its fatal attraction for the depressed.

The 42-year-old New York native said he has experienced his own bouts of depression. He lost a brother and a sister — one to cancer, the other to an accident with a drunk driver.

Steel wanted to know what made people hurl themselves into the bay. "One thing that stuck with me is that someone had to walk from the parking lot to one spot on the bridge before taking that jump," he said. "That walk must involve the most unimaginable mental anguish."

And it's here that the issue of ethics is the hardest to grapple with-obviously, admitting to the true intentions of filming would have gotten the permits denied, but there's no way around it-there's a definite element of subterfuge here

He arrived in San Francisco in November 2003. But when he applied for permits, he wrote only that he sought to capture "the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge."

Steel said he obscured the movie's purpose to avoid his greatest fear: "I worried word would get out, that someone would jump just to be immortalized on film. Despite criticism I did something unethical, I feel I did the right thing."

And there was the fact that Steel and his crew did take an active part in trying to prevent suicides they were on the verge of witnessing, they did NOT just let the cameras roll with no action taken

From half a mile away, Steel began filming the bridge on New Year's Day in 2004. A crew of 12 took shifts from dawn to dusk. With one camera, they recorded the span and water. With a second one, they used a telephoto lens to scan for pedestrians.

The crew quickly learned there was no common suicide profile. "We saw lots of people crying, walking alone with hoods over their heads, their shoulders hunched," Steel said. "But none of those people jumped."

Instead, it was the woman with the nervous twitch. And a man who laughed on his cellphone until he blessed himself and pushed off the railing.

Steel established guidelines on when to intervene, instructing the crew to call emergency officials if a pedestrian set down a bag or briefcase, removed shoes or wallet, or climbed onto the rail. They intervened five times to stop jumpers, he said.

"It's very hard to watch anyone die," he said. "No one on the crew went unscathed."

The hardest part of the effort was in talking to the families & loved ones of those who committed suicide from the bridge, truly a gut-churning aspect if one's really trying to get a better handle on the issue

In the film, Wally Manikow, a tax collector from Virginia, ruefully relates a conversation with his son, Philip. "He asked me, 'Is suicide a sin?' " Manikow says as he sits on his living room couch absent-mindedly petting his dog. "I told him, 'No, that's something man made up. God is not going to hold it against you.' "

With his wife, Mary, beside him, the father pauses, then continues: "He thanked me for telling him the truth."

Steel did not inform family members that he had filmed their loved one's suicides. Later, he acknowledged, "individual people called and were upset I didn't tell them."

Mary Manikow said Steel has not allowed her to see the movie. She saw footage of their interview Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America" where Steel promoted his movie.

"I felt very stripped and naked and exposed when I saw that," she said. "I'm disappointed that we couldn't see the portrayal of this personal moment in our lives before the rest of the nation. I guess I feel used."

While overall I'd agree with Steel's efforts & motivations, I completely see Chaffee's & Manikow's point-I'd feel used too in this case

Yet, if the film leads to a barrier that makes it harder to jump from the bridge, then perhaps the lives of those whose final moments were filled with an unimaginable mental anguish will have contributed to a better outcome, one in which life is harder to end in at least this small segment, those who jump from the bridge


  • I agree with your conclusions. I'd feel used too. But it also seems to me that the movie can do some good then some discomfort for that family may be justified.

    By Anonymous Susan, at 10:07 PM  

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