Photo: Screenshot from the film
Would you jump? Or would you chicken out? Good questions. This short film by Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson (documentary filmmakers based in Gothenburg, Sweden), offers a fascinating glimpse into human behaviour, when a group of people are challenged—and who challenge themselves—to jump from a ten metre swimming pool tower into the water below. Filmed with six cameras and several microphones, all of which can be clearly seen in the footage, the film captures the participants as they voice doubts to themselves and in some cases to friends who have joined them on the tower. Aertryck and Danielson say:
Our objective in making this film was something of a psychology experiment: We sought to capture people facing a difficult situation, to make a portrait of humans in doubt. We’ve all seen actors playing doubt in fiction films, but we have few true images of the feeling in documentaries. To make them, we decided to put people in a situation powerful enough not to need any classic narrative framework. A high dive seemed like the perfect scenario.
Through an online advertisement, the filmmakers found 67 people, none of whom had ever been on a 10-meter (about 33 feet) diving tower before, and had never jumped from that height. Participants, who ranged in age from late teens to late 60s, were paid the equivalent of $30 to participate — which meant they had to at least climb up to the diving board and walking to its edge. Jumping from the tower was not a requirement of the project.
In our films, which we often call studies, we want to portray human behavior, rather than tell our own stories about it. We hope the result is a series of meaningful references, in the form of moving images. “Ten Meter Tower” may take place in Sweden, but we think it elucidates something essentially human, that transcends culture and origins. Overcoming our most cautious impulses with bravery unites all humankind. It’s something that has shaped us through the ages.
Reading through the comments from people who had watched the film makes for an interesting study in human behaviour of a different sort:
Cynthia New Hampshire > I loved this! Absolutely riveting. I could feel my own anxiety mounting as I internalized their anguish. Not only is this an observation of human trepidation but it's an exercise in empathy. By the end, I felt wrung out!
ronnie.and.peter victoria bc > i did it one time only, when i was 13 yrs old, and I am 64 now. It remains one of my most searing memories.
Then of course, there are those who think that just because they may have jumped into water from a great height, everyone else should be able to do so as well. The implication being that if you can’t you are some sort of wimp.
Laurie Cheshire CT > Have none of you cliff dived as a kid? jumping into a pool with no obstacle sticking out is a piece of cake!
Bill Daub NJ > Of course I would jump! Where do I go to try it? People do this all the time with great form and beauty,
Oh, and for the record, I have never jumped from a three metre tower let alone a ten metre one. Would I do so? I will never know unless I try, and at this stage in my life—I have no intention of trying!
Ten Meter Tower appeared at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. It is part of a series produced by independent filmmakers who have received support from the nonprofit Sundance Institute. Maximilien Van Aertryck and Axel Danielson are documentary filmmakers based in Gothenburg, Sweden, who have worked together since 2013.
Op-Docs is a forum for short, opinionated documentaries, produced with creative latitude by independent filmmakers and artists. You can see more films in the Op-Docs series here at the New York Times website.