The Bridge (2006 documentary film)

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The Bridge
Movie poster for The Bridge
Directed by Eric Steel
Produced by Eric Steel
Written by Eric Steel
Music by Alex Heffes
Cinematography Peter McCandless
Editing by Sabine Krayenbühl
Distributed by IFC Films
Koch-Lorber Films/E1 Films (DVD)
Release dates
  • April 2006 (2006-04) (San Francisco International Film Festival)
  • October 27, 2006 (2006-10-27) (United States)
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Bridge is a 2006 documentary film by Eric Steel that consists of the results of one year's filming of the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004, which captured a number of suicides, and additional filming of family and friends of some of the identified people who had thrown themselves from the bridge.

The film was inspired by an article titled "Jumpers", written by Tad Friend, that appeared in The New Yorker magazine in 2003. Friend writes that "Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before", and suicide attempt survivor Ken Baldwin explains “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”[1]


Steel interviewed relatives and friends of the suicide victims, not informing them that he had footage of their loved ones' deaths. He claimed that, "All the family members now, at this point, have seen the film, [and are] glad that they had participated in it."[2] He filmed 120 hours of interviews.[3]

The project was kept secret to avoid a situation where someone would "get it into his or her head to go to the bridge and immortalize him or herself on film." The camera crew consisted of 12 people that showed up each morning for an entire year to film the bridge.

During filming, on average, one person jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge every 15 days.[4] In an interview by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Steel states that as the death count was approaching one thousand, there was a rash of jumpers including people jumping with signs reading "I'm 1,000."[5]

In the beginning of January to February 2004, the film crew captured only splashes on the water and only knew from the Coast Guard arriving on the scene that someone had leaped. The first jumper caught with the telephoto lens was not behaving as filmmakers expected - crying and weeping - but, rather, was jogging; talking on his cellphone; laughing, and then suddenly put his things away and leaped to his death.

The film shows many jumpers, and also, many people being saved from jumping. In one case a woman traversed the upper railing to the lower railing only to be pulled by her collar back to safety by a photographer. Filmmakers tried in each case to intercede when they could, succeeding in preventing six jumps. But in most cases there was either no warning, or no time to prevent the jump.[3][5][6][7]

The documentary also has an interview of Kevin Hines who jumped in 2000, and survived because, as he fell toward the water, decided that he wanted to live after all, and positioned himself so he hit the water feet first. He suffered serious injuries to his spine but his life was saved by a black seal swimming below him. He later attributed the seal's presence as a sign from God.

The documentary caused significant controversy when bridge officials charged Steel with misleading them about his intentions. He secured a permit to film the bridge for months and captured 23 of 24 known suicides that took place during the filming phase of the project. In his permit application to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a government agency that does not have any jurisdiction over the bridge but that does manage nearby park areas, Steel said he intended "to capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge".[8] Shooting lasted the entirety of 2004, ending with almost 10,000 hours of footage filmed.[9]

"The rail is so low, a 7-year-old can climb over it." -Eric Steel[3]

Eugene "Gene" Sprague[edit]

The last day of Gene Sprague's life is shown throughout the movie; the film ending with his jump into the water. Interviews with Sprague's close friends are interspersed throughout the film with images of his eventual suicide.

Sprague (December 11, 1969 – May 11, 2004) was born in San Francisco, the son of an unmarried woman who did not want to be a mother. When she learned she was pregnant, she decided to raise him and became the most important figure in his life. Sprague suffered from depression during adolescence, and openly shared his suicidal thoughts with friends. However, they did not take him seriously because he always spoke of it in jest. According to Sprague's godmother, he even told his mother he wanted to kill himself.

After his mother died of cancer, Sprague became obsessed with suicide. He made contacts through the Internet and moved to St. Louis, Missouri, for a new beginning, but said he planned to jump off a bridge in that city or lie on the railroad tracks to end his life. After these threats, his friends sent him money to take a bus back to California, where he stayed and went on job interviews.

On May 11, 2004, while the film crew was filming, Sprague appeared at the Golden Gate Bridge and walked back and forth over the bridge for ninety-three minutes. Eventually, he climbed the railing, sat for a few seconds, then stood with his back to the water and fell. Sprague then fell with no movement to the water in 4 seconds traveling at 75 mph.

According to Steel, Sprague, "...walked across the bridge from the south to the north side and then from north to south, which are typically tourists. I did not think the bridge jump, but it must have something about him that caught my attention."[3][5]

Why he chose the Bridge? I don't know… Maybe he just wanted to fly one time.

—Caroline Pressley, Gene's friend


A DVD version of the film was released by Koch Lorber Films on June 12, 2007.


The soundtrack of The Bridge was composed by the British film composer Alex Heffes and is called The Shadow of the Bridge.

Ingrid Michaelson was so inspired and moved after viewing the making of The Bridge that she wrote and recorded a song called "San Francisco". The song was released to fan club members who pre-ordered her 2009 album Everybody. The song does not appear on any album, but Michaelson has been known to perform it live on tour.[10]


The Bridge received mostly positive reviews, receiving a 69 percent Fresh rating from 53 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, which states the critical consensus as: "Tactlessly morbid or remarkably sensitive? Deeply disturbing or viscerally fascinating Critics are divided on Eric Steel’s unique documentary on the Golden Gate Bridge, wonder of the modern world and notorious suicide destination."

Golden Gate Bridge[edit]

More people die by suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge than at any other site in the world.[11] The deck is approximately 245 feet (75 m) above the water.[12] After a fall of approximately four seconds, jumpers hit the water at around 75 mph (120 km/h). Most jumpers die from impact trauma on contact with the water. The few who survive the initial impact generally drown or die of hypothermia in the cold water.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jumpers" - The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge, Tad Friend, The New Yorker, October 13, 2003
  2. ^ "The Bridge of Death" ABC News, October 20, 2006
  3. ^ a b c d The Bridge - Director Eric Steel interview pt 1 (Youtube)
  4. ^ "The bridge of suicide", Catherine Philip, The Times, February 28, 2007
  5. ^ a b c The Bridge - Director Eric Steel interview pt 2 (Youtube)
  6. ^ The Bridge Interview (BBC)
  7. ^ Director's year at suicide bridge (BBC)
  8. ^ "Film captures suicides on Golden Gate Bridge", Phillip Matier & Andrew Ross, San Francisco Chronicle, January 19, 2005.
  9. ^ Controversy over The Bridge, May 1, 2006.
  10. ^ YouTube Search Results: Ingrid Michaelson San Francisco>
  11. ^ Bone, James (October 13, 2008). "The Times" (ECE). New York. Retrieved October 23, 2008. 
  12. ^ Suspension Bridges, page 5. "Depth to span ratio (of truss is) 1:168." Span of 4200 ft means truss is 25 ft deep.
  13. ^ John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer (November 2, 2005). "Lethal Beauty (series): No easy death: Suicide by bridge is gruesome, and death is almost certain. The fourth in a seven-part series on the Golden Gate Bridge barrier debate". Retrieved July 29, 2012. 

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