In 2004, director Eric Steel and his team posted themselves at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge for an entire year, and with cameras running all day, every day, they filmed 23 people who jumped to their deaths.

The premise of Steel's film, The Bridge, seems unbelievable—as if no filmmaker could have gotten away with setting up their camera near the bridge for a year, let alone producing and distributing the resulting footage. (Indeed, once bridge officials found out what Steel was actually up to—he'd told them he was doing a piece on American landmarks—they freaked out, and some have accused The Bridge of being a snuff film.)

But Steel did get away with it—and in doing so, he's made an unexpectedly beautiful film. Though it opens with a jarring shot of a man in a baseball cap climbing over the rail and making the leap, flailing as he silently falls (it's the first of many suicides shown close up, while several others consist of a quiet splash in the water below the bridge), most of the film is about the lives of those who ended them. Family and friends try to explain what troubled their loved ones—addiction, homelessness, mental illness, heartbreak, unemployment, depression—and what drew them to the iconic bridge. The families also show a surprising amount of understanding about (or at least reconciliation with) the person's decision to jump.

Steel's cameras also catch other things, like a man talked down from the ledge, a girl pulled in by a tourist, a young man who decided as his hand left the rail that he wanted to live, and managed to survive the fall and talk to Steel. Surrounding it all is the enormous bridge—the bridge in the sun and in the fog, the bridge circled by seagulls, the bridge visited by 10 million tourists each year.