Film Review: Girl on the Bridge (NZIFF 2020)

“They’re your friends, they’re your family, they’re your colleagues, they’re your neighbours,” states Jazz Thornton, referring to those suffering to a point in which they have given up on life. The Girl on the Bridge, a NZ documentary directed by Leanne Pooley, follows Jazz as she puts together a web series inspired by the story of her late friend Jess who tragically took her own life.

Director: Leanne Pooley

Jazz is on a courageous and essential mission to remove the stigma around suicide and mental health issues, pleading for those that are suicidal to be shown empathy and care instead of being denigrated.

Jazz herself attempted suicide many times, but managed to find her way out of the dark and immensely lonely place that is wanting to not exist, and into film studies. From there Jazz secured funding to produce Jessica’s Tree, which has gone on to win awards globally. Jess’s story is closely aligned to Jazz’s story, and it becomes apparent through the film that Jessica’s Tree was also a way for Jazz to communicate her story, a story that is all too common but also all too hidden in NZ.

I struggled with similar issues briefly myself as a teenager, and have been privy to the countless stories of others that have also. The fact that keyboard warriors are labelling those that attempt suicide as attention seeking and much worse, as the film illustrates, is sad and appalling. Suicide isn’t confined to younger generations, however, their vulnerability makes it all the more pressing. NZ has one of the most dismal suicide rates for 10 to 19-year olds in the developed world.

Throughout the film Jazz conveys the urgent message that better dialogue around suicide is needed and for critical support services to be improved. Jazz also recognises the complexity around the issue of whether suicide is talked about more publicly, herself grappling with what she describes as the danger in telling the story versus the danger in not telling. The Jessica’s Tree production team openly deal with the question around the ethics of carrying on with the project as it starts to take an emotional toll on Jazz.

Although heart breaking to watch, the film’s content is handled with consideration, sensitivity and respect. I endorse Jazz when she says “I really want this not to be something that people watch for an hour and they are impacted by it, and then they go back to their lives. I want it to be something that propels change.” I sincerely hope so too.

Also check out, an advocacy organisation Jazz co-founded with Genevieve Mora to provide hope to those suffering mental illness through advocacy, campaigning and story-telling.

The Girl on the Bridge had its World Premiere on 25 July 2020, screening at NZIFF 2020. For tickets/online access, please go HERE.

Andy Baker