SAN FRANCISCO — The film project was proposed as a documentary intended to “capture the grandeur” of the Golden Gate Bridge.
But after a year, filmmaker Eric Steel ended up with footage of 19 deaths and several attempts by people who wanted to end their lives by jumping off what is regarded as the world’s No. 1 suicide landmark.
Bridge officials who approved the filming are now furious at Steel, saying he lied about his project. They are looking for ways to see the footage and possibly prevent him from showing it.
“It’s unprofessional to have misrepresented a project,” said Mary Currie, spokeswoman for the agency that administers and maintains the famous bridge. “It’s an invasion of privacy. It’s grim. It’s a tragic thing.”
Reached Wednesday by e-mail, Steel refused to comment, citing ongoing “discussions with the bridge district authority.”
Permit issued in 2003
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which manages the piece of property where Steel set up a digital movie camera, issued him a $65 permit in December 2003, spokesman Rich Weideman said.
Quoting Steel’s application, Weideman said the filmmaker wrote that his video was intended “to capture the powerful, spectacular intersection of monument and nature that takes place every day at the Golden Gate Bridge. ... It will be the first in a series. Future projects will focus on the arch in St. Louis and the Statue of Liberty in New York.”
Weideman said it is possible Steel began filming the project he proposed, then caught a suicide on tape and changed his plan.
In light of the controversy, the recreation area is re-evaluating its permit policy, he said.
Steel revealed the true nature of his project after he completed filming and his permit expired on Dec. 31, Currie said. He also has asked to interview staff members about the project, Currie said.
‘It is a movie about people’
“I believe the film will allow us to see into the most impenetrable corners of the human mind and challenge us to think and talk about suicide in profoundly different ways,” Steel wrote in an e-mail to Currie. “It is a movie about the human spirit in crisis. It is a movie about people.”
He also said he recorded nearly 100 hours of interviews with families and friends of the jumpers, witnesses who were walking, biking or driving across the bridge or surfing or boating beneath it, psychiatrists and “several of the attempters themselves.”
He said his intention is to make “an independent, feature-length film that I can show at a major film festival. Beyond that, I have no distribution plans — only hopes.”
The Golden Gate Bridge has served for decades as platform for suicide jumpers. An estimated 1,200 people have committed suicide there since it opened in 1937.
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